Asbestos Health Risks
The harmful impact of asbestos exposure has been observed well over a century ago. But, it was in the late 1950s and early 1960s, that a link between asbestos and lung cancer was clearly established.
The primary risk to human health is airborne asbestos. Asbestos fibres, unlike man-made fibres such as glass fibre, can be split into extremely thin fibres. Roughly 300,000 asbestos fibres would equal the width of a human hair!
Because the fibres are so thin, they can remain suspended in air, unseen, for extended periods of time.
When asbestos-laden air is inhaled, the fibres can settle deep in the lungs. While lungs can remove inhaled dust particles, asbestos fibres are long (compared to ordinary dust), and much more difficult for the body to remove. Asbestos fibres can remain in the lungs for years, even decades.
Asbestos Related Diagnoses
Symptoms of asbestos related diseases can often take many years to appear. Even if detected early, available medical treatments rarely provide good outcomes.
Diseases known to be linked to asbestos exposure include:
- asbestosis - a non-cancerous disease where scarring of the lungs makes breathing difficult. It is often fatal, and there is no cure. Asbestosis symptoms typically appears 15-20 years after exposure.
- lung cancer - even with early detection and treatment, lung cancer is difficult to treat. The 5 year survival rate for cancer is only about 20%. It is possible for people diagnosed with asbestosis to also develop lung cancer. Diagnosis of lung cancer can be 20 to 40 years after exposure.
- mesothelioma - a rare form of lung cancer caused when the asbestos fibres pierce the lung tissue to enter the chest or abdomen. Cancer develops in the chest or abdomen. There is no effective treatment, and it is always fatal.
Given the serious health risks of asbestos, avoiding any exposure is extremely important.
Get answers to your questions about asbestos:
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* Government of Canada Health risks of asbestos
** Asbestos Training Manual, Pinchin LeBlanc
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