Mesothelioma Asbestos Exposure

Asbestos includes several subtypes of a naturally-occurring fibrous mineral. Asbestos fibers are strong and heat-resistant, and have historically been used for a number of purposes, including construction materials and insulation. However, asbestos exposure dangers have been made apparent in the last several decades. Dangers of asbestos include a variety of diseases affecting the lungs and other organs.

Types of Asbestos

Two types of asbestos occur in nature:

  • Amphibole asbestos fibers are long and straight, and have a chained crystalline structure.
  • Serpentine asbestos fibers are shorter and curlier, and have a layered crystal structure.

Amphibole asbestos is most commonly used for construction, insulation and other purposes, but serpentine asbestos is used as well.

Uses of Asbestos

Asbestos has been used for several hundred years for a variety of different applications, including:

  • Automobile brake pads
  • Cements
  • Floor tiles
  • Insulation and fireproofing.

In the late 1980s, after its dangers had been discovered, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) began to enforce more regulations around the use of asbestos, including banning new uses of asbestos. However, asbestos has yet to be banned completely.

Asbestos Exposure Dangers

Despite its usefulness, asbestos exposure can be hazardous to your health. When asbestos fibers become airborne, they can be inhaled or ingested, and become embedded in the body’s tissue.

Asbestos exposure is a proven cause of multiple medical conditions. These include:

  • Asbestosis: Asbestosis is a lung disorder caused by breathing in asbestos fibers. It leads to formation of scar tissue in the lungs and difficulty breathing.
  • Mesothelioma: Mesothelioma is a cancer that results from breathing in or ingesting asbestos fibers. These fibers cause cancerous cell growth in the mesothelium, or the tissue that covers the internal organs. It can lead to different symptoms depending on the organs affected.

Workers may be exposed to asbestos when manufacturing or building items or structures using asbestos, or when making repairs to an item or structure containing asbestos. Non-workers who spend time in buildings containing asbestos products may be at risk for health damage due to this exposure.

Measures to Prevent Asbestos Exposure

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) has established limits for people exposed to asbestos on the job. Depending on the level of exposure, employers may also be required by law to conduct regular testing for levels of asbestos to ensure employee safety. Asbestos removal may also be mandated in buildings containing asbestos in order to ensure the safety of people in those buildings.

Most people affected by asbestos-related diseases were exposed on the job, often before government regulations had been passed to keep them safe. Decades can sometimes pass between asbestos exposure and the onset of symptoms. Based on increased awareness of its dangers, asbestos exposure is now regulated, and hopefully, incidence of asbestos-related diseases, such as asbestosis and mesothelioma, may decrease in the future. However, people who work around existing asbestos must continue to take precautions to protect themselves.

Resources

All About Malignant Mesothelioma Staff. (2006). About asbestos. Retrieved December 26, 2009, from the All About Malignant Mesothelioma Web site: http://www.allaboutmalignantmesothelioma.com/asbestos.htm.

Mayo Clinic Staff. (n.d.). Asbestosis: definition. Retrieved December 26, 2009, from the Mayo Clinic Web site: http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/asbestosis/DS00482.

National Cancer Institute Staff. (n.d.). Asbestos exposure and cancer risk. Retrieved December 26, 2009, from the National Cancer Institute Web site: http://www.cancer.gov/cancertopics/factsheet/Risk/asbestos.

OSHA Staff. (2002). OSHA fact sheet. Retrieved December 26, 2009, from the OSHA web site: http://www.osha.gov/OshDoc/data_AsbestosFacts/asbestos-factsheet.pdf.