Asbestos is a mineral and known carcinogen that has been used in building materials for years. Asbestos is harmful if it is inhaled or ingested, but it cannot be absorbed into the body through the skin.
Individual asbestos fibers are microscopic and may be released when asbestos containing materials are disturbed during normal use, maintenance, renovation, or demolition. Breathing asbestos fibers does not result in immediate health effects, but asbestos exposure can lead to the development of asbestosis, lung cancer and/or mesothelioma over time.
Asbestos-related diseases have a relatively long latency period, generally 15-40 years or longer. This means it takes years for someone who has been exposed to asbestos to develop an asbestos-related disease, if at all. Currently, there is no method for detection of asbestos present within the body. Someone who believes he or she was exposed to asbestos cannot be evaluated for potential health effects prior to diagnosis of an asbestos-related disease.
Asbestos Damages the Alveoli
When asbestos is inhaled through the nose or mouth, the fibers travel down the throat through the larynx and trachea, enter the lungs through bronchi, which branch into smaller bronchi, then into bronchioles and finally terminate in the alveoli. Scar tissue begins to form around asbestos fibers once they become lodged in the alveoli. The development of scar tissue causes membranes to thicken and reduces the lungs’ ability to absorb oxygen.
Asbestosis develops relatively quickly—within 15-30 years—after high exposure to asbestos. The higher the level of exposure, the higher the risk for development of Asbestosis. Asbestosis is characterized by scarring of lung tissue and reduced lung capacity, which can lead to cardiac and/or respiratory failure.
Lung cancer due to asbestos exposure takes longer to develop than Asbestosis—about 20-30 years—and can result from moderate exposure to asbestos. Like Asbestosis, the higher the level of exposure, the higher the risk for development of lung cancer. A synergistic effect exists between asbestos exposure and smoking, meaning someone who has been exposed to asbestos and smokes has a chance of developing lung cancer about 50-90 times greater than someone who does not smoke.
Mesothelioma develops relatively slowly after low exposure to asbestos—about 30-40 years—and may even develop after a single exposure event. Higher levels of exposure do not necessarily increase the risk of Mesothelioma. Mesothelioma is characterized by cancer of the chest and abdominal cavity lining.
For More Information on the Health Effects of Asbestos Visit:
- United States Environmental Protection Agency
- Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry
- National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health
- National Cancer Institute
How Branch Environmental Can Help
Since 2000, Branch Environmental has been inspecting, assessing and abating asbestos. We have worked in homes, multi-family housing, schools, hospitals, government facilities, commercial buildings and more. Our team of experienced professionals possess the knowledge and tools required to handle all of your asbestos related needs. Call us today at 706-310-0097 or send us a message if you would like to schedule an asbestos inspection, request an abatement estimate, or if you simply have questions regarding asbestos. Stay tuned for our next post on how to handle asbestos in your home.