Health Hazards of Asbestos

Medical and scientific studies have confirmed the hazardous impact of asbestos on human life.  To date, millions of persons have been exposed to asbestos due to the prevalent use of this carcinogen in common materials and products.  The latency period for asbestos-related diseases is long — commonly between 20 – 50 years.  Research has proven that asbestos causes asbestosis, lung cancer and mesothelioma.  Unfortunately, there is no known cure for mesothelioma.

No Safe Level

There is no “safe level” or dosage of asbestos.  Due to the enactment of federal safety regulations, exposure to asbestos in the workplace is now heavily regulated and has reduced the risk of asbestos exposure.  Unfortunately, many workers, including Navy seamen, electricians, mechanics, construction workers, and shipyard workers, to name just a few, were exposed before these regulations went into effect.

Because asbestos fibers are microscopic, millions of fibers can be airborne but not be visible.  Due to the latency period, workers often learn of their exposure many years after the fact.

Asbestos Related Diseases

There are various asbestos-related diseases.  The most significant is mesothelioma, an aggressive cancer that attacks the lining of the lungs.  Asbestos fibers that have been inhaled penetrate the lungs and related organs, causing symptoms such as shortness of breath, inflammation and irritation.  At this time, there is no known cure for mesothelioma.

Other diseases include caused by asbestos include asbestosis (inflammation and scarring of the lung), pleural plaques (scarring outside of the lung lining), pleural disease (scarring that is more significant and causes lung disease), and lung cancer.

Warning Signs of Asbestos-Related Disease

The warning signs of asbestos-related disease include fever, cough, hoarseness, shortness of breath, weight loss, and back or chest pain.  If you have been exposed to asbestos and believe you are experiencing symptoms, you should consult your physician immediately.

Risk of Asbestos Exposure

The risk of asbestos exposure is more far-reaching than persons who worked directly with asbestos products.  “Bystanders” who happened to be at the worksite or in proximity to asbestos products or persons who worked with such products may have also been exposed.  Spouses, children, and other family members of workers who “took home” asbestos on their clothing and equipment were also exposed.

Once exposed, all of these persons are at risk for developing asbestos-related diseases.  Recent studies have shown, for example, that housewives comprise a significant number of persons who have contracted mesothelioma.  Bystanders and family members who may have been exposed should monitor themselves for any symptoms of asbestos-related disease.

Occupations at Risk

Common occupations at risk of asbestos exposure in the workplace include: auto mechanics, boilermakers, bricklayers, carpenters, construction workers, electricians, machinists, mechanics, millers, painters, pipe fitters, plasterers, power plant workers, sailors, shipyard workers, and welders.