Asbestos Exposure Health Risks
Recently a doctor was diagnosed with mesothelioma, an aggressive cancer that is more often than not 100% fatal and cannot be cured. The 63-year-old started feeling pain in her shoulder and assumed it was just a pulled muscle only to discover with shock that she had contracted a deadly disease caused from prolonged exposure to asbestos. Many don’t think twice of the impact of asbestos exposure health risks, with the mindset of only people who have worked in the industry for all their life being susceptible to it. No one saw it coming that Pauline Vizzard would have contracted the deadly disease from her frequent ward rounds in a public hospital in the 70s and 80s. However no one really expects to contract an asbestos-related illness either.
Australia underwent a nationwide ban on the production of asbestos in 2003 but the asbestos exposure health risks still prove to be a growing threat to Australian employees in ageing workplace infrastructure. If not removed properly and the building structure containing asbestos deteriorates, asbestos fibres will become loose in the air causing future harm to the general public. Despite this ban Australia still struggles with the negative health impacts of asbestos due to it having the highest per capita rate of asbestos use in the world during the 1950s and 70s in various construction and mining industries. Asbestos-related health problems are commonly referred to as the silent killer because symptoms of these diseases do not usually appear until after 20-30 years from the first exposure to asbestos fibres. Prolonged asbestos exposure affects a person’s health when you breathe in asbestos fibres that are airborne. In small doses, asbestos fibres do not harm anyone as small quantities of it are present in the air at all times. However large amounts breathed in over a long period of time poses several health risks.
Asbestos fibres are not only difficult to remove from households and workplaces, but they are also difficult to destroy in the body once inhaled. The body cannot break these fibres down or remove them once they are lodged in lung or body tissues where the disease can fatally spread. Numerous health risks can be associated with asbestos exposure and it has been known to cause malignant diseases such as pleural plaques and thickening, asbestosis, mesothelioma, lung cancer and other cancers of the larynx and ovary. The future concern for many countries and not just Australia is how to prevent current and future asbestos exposure given its wide usage in the past with peak mining and manufacturing use of asbestos products in the 70s.
Second only to the UK, Australia has the highest mesothelioma death rate in the world despite being a rare disease accounting for only 0.6% of all cancers diagnosed in Australia in 2009. It affects older people more so than younger due to the latency period between asbestos exposure and development of the disease. Mesothelioma often develops in the thin membrane lining of the lungs, chest, abdomen, and occasionally heart. The life expectancy of mesothelioma patients are poor as there is no known cure, with the average life expectancy being 12 to 21 months. According to the Figure below, mesothelioma cases have been steadily increasing from 1982 to 2010 which only reinforces the detrimental effects of asbestos exposure health risks.
Besides mesothelioma, breathing in asbestos fibres can also cause other health problems such as asbestosis and lung problems. Asbestosis is not cancerous. However it is a serious and chronic respiratory disease in which scarring occurs in the lungs (pulmonary fibrosis). This scar-like tissue decreases the elasticity of the lungs, making breathing more difficult. Common symptoms of this disease include shortness of breath and a dry crackling sound (also known as “rales”) in the lungs while inhaling. Unfortunately there is no effective treatment for this fatal disease as of now which is why asbestos prevention is so important by properly removing asbestos present in residential and commercial buildings. According to the diagram below there has been an upwards trend on the number of deaths attributed to asbestosis, with 109 deaths being attributed to asbestosis as of 2008.
People frequently exposed to large amounts of asbestos fibres over a long period of time also have a significant risk of developing lung cancer. This is heightened if they are also exposed to some other carcinogen such as cigarette smoke and will have a significantly increased risk of developing lung cancer. The cancerous tumours usually occur in cells that line the tubes leading into the lungs and can quickly spread to other organs in the body. Common symptoms of this cancerous disease are coughing, shortness in breath, persistent chest pains, hoarseness and anemia. Like the other asbestos-related health problems, it also usually takes 10-20 years before lung cancer develops from asbestos exposure. Common knowledge of the asbestos exposure health risks and proper asbestos removal by licensed removalists are all steps to preventing the onset of diseases associated with asbestos exposure.
Due to its durability and insulating properties, asbestos was extensively used for building products such as asbestos cement sheeting and corrugated roofing to name a few. Asbestos is still very prevalent in many older public homes and buildings and poses several threats to people’s health. PROAS specialises in asbestos removal Melbourne wide. If in doubt there may be asbestos lining the roof of your residential or commercial building, contact us for trusted and licensed professional asbestos removalists so you can be rest assured your home is asbestos-free.