Asbestos is only a hazard when in its raw form or when an asbestos containing material is damaged or being altered in any way. Once the asbestos fibres become friable or are released into the air they are easily inhaled and ingested. The microscopic fibres are easily able to make their way down the windpipe and into different areas of the lungs.

dose-response-curveThe rigid nature of the fibres and their resistance to chemicals means that the body is unable to break them down over time. The adverse effects of asbestos are linked to the amount of exposure and the length of time the person was exposed and can be shown on the following dose response curve.

Asbestos is known today as a carcinogen (a substance that tends to produce a cancer) and poses several health risks including asbestosis, mesothelioma and lung cancer. Once asbestos fibres have built up in the lungs the body is unable to break them down and they remain in place. The health risks associated with asbestos can be fatal.

As the dose response curve demonstrates, the higher the exposure and the longer the exposure lasts the more likely it becomes that health issues will develop. This is certainly not to say that one fibre cannot harm, just one fibre lodged into the lining of your lung has the ability to cause future health problems.

Asbestos in situ and in good condition does not pose a high level of risk as long as it is properly managed. When you don’t know where asbestos is located in your property it is impossible to know whether or not is it in a condition that causes fibre release. It also makes it impossible to know whether or not normal tasks may be creating high levels of airborne asbestos fibres. How can you tell that you’re not nailing your new painting into an asbestos containing wall? Are you sure that the cladding you just water blasted does not contain asbestos? How will a contractor know that they’re not being exposed when they replace your flooring? Being aware of where asbestos is located in your property is essential, not only for your own health and safety but to protect those working in and around your property.

Asbestos related diseases were overlooked for centuries, if not millennia but the health effects have been formally documented since the 1890s.

  • Asbestosis is an inflammatory condition of the lungs that can eventually cause scarring of the lung tissue and make it hard to breathe. Asbestosis has a latency period of 10-40 years and is incurable. Over time the lung tissue will become so scarred that it is unable to expand and contract normally rendering the sufferer unable to breathe.
  • Mesothelioma is a rare cancer that affects the protective lining of the lungs. The same protective lining covers many of the body’s vital internal organs which often also become affected by the cancer. Mesothelioma has a latency period of up to 50 years and is often not found until in the later stages of the disease. This is a fatal disease that often causes death within eighteen months.
  • Lung cancer is sometimes associated with asbestos exposure. The risk is far greater to smokers who are exposed to this natural hazard. Lung cancer can often start with just one tumour in the lungs but the cancer is able to metastasize or spread throughout the body.
  • Other lung problems, including pleural plaques, thickening of the membranes that surround the lungs and pleural effusions can be also linked to asbestos exposure.
  • Asbestos fibres can also be ingested, potentially causing cancer of the abdomen and/or stomach.