What is asbestos exposure?

Posted: 5th Oct 18 10:00 AM

Disturbing or damaging asbestos and asbestos-containing materials releases microscopic fibres. If inhaled, these fibres can cause serious lung diseases later in life.

Asbestos is a fibrous mineral which has had regular industrial use in the United Kingdom and around the world.

Throughout the 20th century, hundreds of thousands of skilled workers and labourers were exposed to asbestos through their working lives.

Shipbuilders, laggers, construction workers and engineers, to name but a few, were exposed to the dangerous substance day after day, hour after hour, for years without any thought to their health or safety.

Due to the nature of their work, they were exposed to huge amounts of asbestos for prolonged periods of time.

More recently, it has been found that nurses, teachers and even pupils have been exposed to asbestos. Due to its prevalence in construction, asbestos materials are found in many schools and hospitals around the UK.

Secondary, or “shakedown”, exposure has also been a widespread problem. This occurred when a family member or friend would come home after work covered in asbestos dust and hug a child or loved one, or someone else would clean their work clothes and overalls.

How does asbestos enter your body?

The most common way for asbestos to enter your body is by breathing it in.

Asbestos-containing materials are not generally considered to be harmful unless they are damaged or disturbed through work, maintenance or accidental damage and wear-and-tear.

It is when these materials become damaged that they release asbestos dust and fibres into the air.

Can asbestos exposure be harmful?

Inhaling asbestos puts you at greater risk of developing an asbestos-related disease later in life – there is no “safe” level of asbestos to be exposed to.

Due to their latency periods, there is no way to tell if someone will develop one of these diseases, or which one might be caused.

Most asbestos diseases require substantial exposure to asbestos over extended periods of time, such as asbestosis, pleural thickening and asbestos-related lung cancers. These usually develop in individuals who worked in ship yards, construction sites and power stations, using raw asbestos materials for lagging and insulation, with no thought for their health and safety from their superiors.

Some asbestos diseases only require minimal exposure to asbestos. Pleural plaques, for example, is a benign and symptomless condition and is a slight scarring of the pleura (the tissue that lines your lungs).

On the other hand, mesothelioma is a terminal cancer caused by asbestos, also requiring only small amounts of exposure.

“Mesothelioma can occur after a low level of asbestos exposure and there is no threshold dose of asbestos below which there is no risk,” says Dr Robin Rudd, a medical expert in asbestos cases and mesothelioma.

This means that inhaling even a single asbestos fibre could have the potential to cause mesothelioma.

What should you do if you have been exposed to asbestos?

If you have been exposed to asbestos, there is a risk of developing an asbestos-related disease, but there is no guarantee one will develop. It is important to let your GP know about any previous exposure should you start to show any symptoms, such as shortness of breath or chest pains.

Asbestos-related diseases can take anywhere between 10 and 50 years to develop – you may not notice any changes to your health for quite some time. Because of this, it is important to make note of where and how you were exposed to asbestos, and to what extent.

If you were exposed through no fault of your own, such as in your place of work, and develop an asbestos-related disease later in life, you may be entitled to financial compensation and government benefits. To find out if you are eligible, get in touch with us today.

If you or a loved one is ever diagnosed with an asbestos-related disease, or you are worried about past asbestos exposure, don’t hesitate to get in touch with the National Asbestos Helpline. We’re here to help you with advice about your condition and can also advise on any benefits and/ or compensation you might be entitled to. Call us on Freephone 0800 043 6635, or email enquiries@nationalasbestos.co.uk.

Further reading

Why is asbestos dangerous?

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