ASBESTOS RELATED ILLNESSES
There are over 4,500 annual deaths from asbestos-related illness in the UK. Due to the realisation of the health risks of exposure to Asbestos, the awareness level of the hazards posed by asbestos has greatly increased in the past four decades.
During the 20th century, before knowledge of its long-term toxicity became widespread, thousands of everyday products incorporated asbestos because it was desired for its versatility, resistance to heat, and tensile strength.
Regardless of the level of increased awareness however, asbestos remains the principal cause of death from job-related cancer in the UK.
In short there are four main types of industrial diseases that are cause by the exposure to asbestos from the work place.
- Mesothelioma (a cancer of the lining of the lungs); it is fatal mainly exclusive to exposure to asbestos)
- Asbestos-related lung cancer (which is almost always fatal) but this can run side by side with cigarette smoking.
- Asbestosis (a scarring of the lungs) not always fatal but very debilitating disease, greatly affecting quality of life.
- Diffuse pleural thickening (a thickening of the membrane surrounding the lungs) which can restrict lung expansion leading to breathlessness.)
For more information on each of the diseased please read below. First however we shall consider what is asbestos and why it has been used in many of the UK’s older buildings including schools, factories, hotels and many more.
What is Asbestos?
Asbestos is a fibrous mineral whose properties make it naturally resistant to heat, electricity and chemical corrosion. It is a good insulator and fireproofing material. Asbestos was used in the production of thousands of products used in a variety of settings (domestic, commercial and industrial). The fibers are extremely narrow and are therefore easily ingested through respiration. Asbestos possesses high-resistance to chemical dissolution and this implies that it will linger almost indefinitely once settled in the lungs.
Although asbestos may not present a health hazard if undisturbed, it can be very dangerous if any material containing asbestos is drilled, chipped, sanded or even allowed to deteriorate because it can lead to the release a fine dust that contains its fibres.
Why did we use asbestos?
Asbestos was used extensively in our buildings and manufacture as it was a cheap source of mineral that was produced naturally. The main reason was also that it had significant fire-resistant properties and insulation. Hence the reason why it can be found extensively on heating pipes, boilers, roofing and flooring. This is one reason why so many lagers and plumbers have been exposed to asbestos and suffered from this horrible disease.
Diseases Caused by Asbestos Exposure
Being informed about asbestos-related diseases helps those who have been previously exposed to asbestos know what symptoms to look out for. There are improved treatments available to control symptoms. Despite the fact that some asbestos-related illnesses may be life-threatening, early diagnosis can be the differential factor.
1. Lung Cancer – Caused by Asbestos
Lung cancer is the principal annual cause of cancer-related deaths in the UK, with a higher kill rate than breast, prostate and colon cancer combined. There is a close connection between asbestos exposure and lung cancer. At least about 50% of people with asbestosis are said to have a lung cancer at post-mortem.
- Chronic coughing
- loss of weight and appetite
- Recurring Respiratory infections
- Shortness of breath
- Difficulty swallowing
- Lasting chest pain
- Neck and face swelling
- Pain in the shoulder, arm, or hand
- severe headaches
- body pain
2. Mesothelioma – Caused by Asbestos
Mesothelioma is described as a rare, incurable and aggressive type of cancer, associated especially with exposure to asbestos that develops in the lining of the lungs or abdomen. Mesothelioma has been linked with amphibole asbestos and can take as much as 45 years to develop after the initial exposure. Death from Mesothelioma most often occurs within 6-18 months after diagnosis.
- Muscle weakness.
- Shortness of breath
- Respiratory complications.
- Pleural effusion
- Chest or abdomen pain.
- Dry cough.
- Fever or night sweats.
Asbestosis is a progressive pulmonary disease that hinders lung health. Asbestosis is a chronic lung condition resulting from prolonged asbestos exposure. Asbestosis develops when inhaled asbestos fibers build up in the lungs thereby resulting in the formation of scar tissue which hardens the lungs over time. There happens to be no cure for asbestosis.
- shortness of breath.
- tightness in your chest.
- persistent dry cough.
- chest pain.
- appetite loss.
- finger clubbing (enlarged fingertips)
- nail deformities.
4. Diffuse Pleural Thickening (DPT)
Diffuse pleural thickening (DPT) is one of the most popular signs of exposure to asbestos. DPT is a lung disease in which the pleura are thickened by extensive scarring. DPT may result in chest pain and patients may also experience difficulty in breathing.
While in its earliest stages, there are no obvious symptoms, but as rigid scar tissue grows around the lungs, the pleura experiences difficulty expanding when the patient breathes. Once pleural thickening progresses to an advanced stage, the spacing between the pleura’s two layers may be closed off, ultimately encasing the lungs and resulting in restrictive lung disease. At this point, patients will have to work harder to be able to breathe.
Pleural thickening is most often caused by prolonged asbestos exposure. This can occur during inhalation of asbestos dust thereby lodging the mineral fibers in the pleura. This activates an inflammatory response which leads to pleural effusions and the progressive buildup of fibrous scar tissue.
- Disability from impaired lung function.
- Persistent cough.
- Reduced chest wall movement.
- Chest pain.
- Progressive breathlessness.
TOP 8 things you should know about Asbestos Exposure
- Occupational exposure is the leading cause of asbestos-related disease.
- Harmful exposures to asbestos can occur in various occupational settings.
- employees from all occupations are very much likely exposed to asbestos fibers on the job.
- Among the occupations at a high risk of exposure to asbestos range from firefighters, carpenters and electricians, to plumbers, auto mechanics, factory workers and much more.
- A lot of building materials contain asbestos and when these products begin to depreciate, home and commercial renovation can be extremely hazardous especially when asbestos products are either cut, sandpapered, drilled or disturbed in any way.
- Exposure to asbestos may take place while on the job.
- If materials containing asbestos are sandblasted off a vessel, the fibrous particles released would not only be restricted to the sandblasted area, thereby putting everyone in the shipyard at risk of inhaling them.
- Today employers are mandated by the law to protect employees from asbestos and other job-related health risks.
To limit exposure to asbestos, it is important to take note of what locations asbestos are most likely to be present. Acknowledge the fact that you cannot perfectly tell if floor or ceiling tiles are made with asbestos just by looking at them. If you are unsure whether something is asbestos or not, it is safer to assume so until verified otherwise.
Never remove or cause damage to any asbestos material. If necessity demands, then contact professionals. Never carry out cleaning on debris that may contain asbestos.
Asbestos is banned for use in many areas in some developed nations.
If you have a history of exposure to asbestos, it is imperative that you visit a doctor or specialist immediately.