The name asbestos refers to a group of 6 different minerals. These minerals are made up of soft and flexible fibers that are too small to be seen by the naked eye. They are insoluble, and they do not evaporate. These minerals are resistant to heat, fire, electricity, and they do not corrode. They also cannot easily be broken down by bacteria or chemicals.
Pure asbestos is used as an insulator in buildings. It has also been used in plastics, types of cement, paper, cloth, and other materials to make them stronger.
The problem is that asbestos is toxic to the human body. Its fibers, if inhaled or ingested, remain trapped inside your body forever, leading to inflammation, scarring and genetic damage at a cellular level.
Asbestos exposure does not have immediate health effects. It takes a long time for your body to break down, and many times, by the time the problem is diagnosed, it is too late to do anything about it.
Many diseases are directly attributable to asbestos exposure, both malignant and non-malignant. The non-malignant diseases include pleural plaques, diffuse pleural thickening, benign asbestos pleural effusions, rounded atelectasis.
The most serious diseases caused by exposure to this mineral are all either terminal or disabling and have no cure. These include asbestosis, lung cancer, mesothelioma, and other cancers such as those of the esophagus, oral cavity, larynx, stomach, kidney, and colon.
When Does Asbestos Become Dangerous?
Asbestos has been used for centuries, and according to the CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention), most people have been exposed to it at some time in their lives. This doesn’t mean that you will develop a life-threatening disease.
According to the CDC, only those who have been exposed to asbestos for a long period of time tend to develop asbestos-related diseases. The occupations that face the highest risk of asbestos exposure include construction, mining, heavy industry, electricity generation, firefighting, military service, shipbuilding, and so on.
Another key danger is smoking. If you have been exposed to asbestos, and are a smoker, then your chances of developing asbestos-related diseases are much higher. Therefore, if you have been exposed to asbestos, the best thing you can do to reduce the risk of cancer is to stop smoking immediately.
Additionally, it has been found that some brands of cigarettes also contain asbestos, which means that you are actively inhaling this deadly mineral.
What to Do if You Have Been Exposed to Asbestos
If you have been exposed to asbestos, either by inhalation or ingestion, the first thing you should do is wash your body and your clothes. According to Dr. Jeffrey Weiland, MD, who is a Pulmonologist at the Wexner Medical Center at Ohio State University, this is to prevent repeated exposure to asbestos fibers that you could be carrying around on either your body or your clothes.
Those who have had quick exposure will not show any symptoms. So, for example, if there has been a steam pipe (containing asbestos) explosion, and you have been exposed to the steam, you might develop a cough. However, this is most likely because of the irritants released in the air rather than the presence of asbestos.
The biggest problem is that currently, there is no way to tell if you have asbestos in your body immediately or soon after exposure since any health issue related to asbestos takes years to develop.
A one-time exposure to asbestos should not create any health problems for you. So, the best thing you can do is avoid being in places where you would face repeated exposure to this toxic mineral.