Why is asbestos dangerous?

Posted: 4th May 21 10:00 AM

When asbestos is damaged or disturbed, microscopic fibres are released into the air. If these fibres are inhaled, they can cause serious damage to the lungs and life-changing diseases.

Asbestos is a naturally occurring, fibrous mineral which was regularly used around Britain from the end of the 19th century.

Asbestos was since found to be a hazardous substance, needing to be handled with care.

Disturbing asbestos or asbestos-containing materials can release microscopic fibres into the air, which, if inhaled can put you at risk of developing asbestos-related diseases later in life.

These diseases will not affect you immediately – they often take a long time to develop from initial exposure.

How does asbestos cause damage and disease?

Most asbestos diseases develop after breathing in asbestos fibres.

When inhaled, these fibres can become lodged in lung tissue.

From movement made when you breathe and from your body trying to remove the foreign object, these fibres tear and damage the lungs, and can even work their way through to the outer layers.

Damage caused from these tears, as well as scar tissue left from your body’s healing process, can cause the development of several asbestos-related diseases, from pleural plaques and pleural thickening, to the more serious asbestosis or mesothelioma, the asbestos-related cancer.

Dr Robin Rudd, a medical expert in mesothelioma and asbestos-related cases, has stated:

“Mesothelioma can occur after a low level of asbestos exposure and there is no threshold dose of asbestos below which there is no risk.”

This means that inhaling even a single asbestos fibre could potentially cause mesothelioma.

It was believed that it was only people who worked in industrial and construction trades who could develop mesothelioma and other asbestos related-diseases, but in the last few years, this was found not to be the case. Due to the prevalence of asbestos in materials across the United Kingdom – especially in schools, hospitals, and other public buildings – teachers, nurses, and even ex-pupils have started developing asbestos-related diseases later in life.

Where can asbestos be found?

Asbestos was widely used throughout the construction industry in thousands of materials.

Widely known for its fireproofing abilities, asbestos was a common ingredient in insulating products. Manufacturers typically added asbestos to these products to make them stronger and fire-resistant.

Spray-on insulation was one of the most widely used asbestos products in the construction industry.

Workers sprayed these insulation products, which contained up to 35 percent of a particular type of asbestos, on steel columns, aluminium sheets and other metal structures that needed to withstand high temperatures.

The people who are most at risk of developing asbestos-related diseases are usually those who were exposed to it on a regular basis, most often in a job where they worked directly with asbestos or through substantial environmental contact.

Trades which were most at risk of coming into regular contact with asbestos include:

  • Ship builders
  • Pipefitters
  • Insulation workers
  • Labourers
  • Plasterers
  • Carpenters
  • Demolition and wrecking crews
  • Roofers
  • Tile setters

If you or a loved one is ever diagnosed with an asbestos-related condition, or you are worried about 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

What is asbestos?

Asbestos in schools – does it pose a danger?

Doctors told to ditch jargon and use ‘plain English’ – which could aid asbestos sufferers