What is Asbestos?

Asbestos refers to 6 naturally occurring silicate minerals. All of these minerals have long and thin fibrous crystals. Each fiber has many microscopic fibrils. These fibrils may come to the air freely by erosion and other natural or artificial processes. Asbestos is a great insulator. It has high heat-resistance. So, for a long time, builders and house owners are using asbestos as a building material. But now using asbestos as a building material is illegal in many countries because of its long-term effects on human lungs. If someone inhales asbestos fibers for a long-time, it can lead to various lung diseases. They may develop mesothelioma, asbestosis, and other types of cancers.

This article covers the following topics:

#1. Types of Asbestos

#2. Most Dangerous Type of Asbestos

#3. Quick Facts

#4. How Asbestos Effects Body?

#5. Health Effects of Asbestos

#6. Other Types of Asbestos-Related Diseases

#7. Who is Most at Risk?


Types of Asbestos

Mainly, there are six types of asbestos. Amosite, chrysotile, tremolite, crocidolite, actinolite, and anthophyllite. There are two mineral families of asbestos. The first one is serpentine, the second one is amphibole. Among this asbestos, chrysotile is the only one that belongs to the serpentine family. All others are amphibole asbestos. The difference between these two families is fiber appearances. Serpentine’s fibers are curly, long, and pliable. Fibers of amphibole are straight, short, needle-like, and very stiff.

Most Dangerous Type of Asbestos

All types of asbestos are dangerous for health. But to be more specific, amphibole asbestos is more dangerous than the other one. CDC (The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) states amphibole fibers can stay in the lungs for long periods than serpentine fibers. But the result of the research is still inconclusive.

Quick Facts

  •   Between 1940 and 1979, nearly 27 million people suffered from asbestos-related diseases. ATSDR (Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry)’s data shows that.
  •   According to a report from the CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention), over 45,000 people in the U.S. died from mesothelioma from 1999 to 2015. It is one of the most notable asbestos-caused diseases.
  •   Every year, nearly 250,000 people die worldwide due to asbestos exposure. The International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health’s reports shows it.
  •   More than 90% of asbestos-related deaths come from workplace asbestos exposure.
How Asbestos Effects Body?

Mostly asbestos fibers enter the body through breathing. Asbestos is not very harmful. But when it releases dust or fibers into the air, it could be dreadful for humans and other animals. They can inhale those fibers. The fibers reach their noses and throats. Some of them get trapped inside the mucous membranes of the nose and throat. Gradually the body removes them from the membrane. But some of them may pass deep into the lungs. And some of them could reach the stomach through digestive tracts. If they get trapped in the body, the fibers can cause serious health problems.

Experts say asbestos becomes most hazardous when it is in friable form. That means it is so fragile that one can crumble it by hand. In its friable form, asbestos releases fibers into the air. For example, asbestos floor tile is not friable, but sprayed-on asbestos insulation is highly friable.

Asbestos floor tiles, ceiling tiles, shingles, laboratory cabinet tops, and fire doors do not release fibers unless they are disturbed in some way. Once anyone drills or breaks a ceiling tile, it may release fibers into the air. Otherwise, it won’t.

Health Effects of Asbestos

The fibers of asbestos are hard to break. The body cannot break them down or remove them from the trapped area once they are lodged in lung or body tissues. They remain there and cause several diseases. Mainly, there are three diseases associated with asbestos exposure. They are asbestosis, mesothelioma, and lung cancer.

  • Asbestosis is a respiratory disease. It is non-cancerous. But it may cause serious health issues. When inhaled asbestos fibers aggravate lung tissues, it causes them to scar. Symptoms of asbestosis are almost the same as other pulmonary diseases. Shortness of breath and a dry crackling sound in the lungs while inhaling are the most common symptoms of asbestosis. Chronic asbestosis may cause cardiac failure. Unfortunately, there is no effective treatment for this disease. It is not malignant. But in most cases, it becomes fatal. The risk of asbestosis increases for those who have a work history with asbestos. Those who work with a construction company, renovate or demolish buildings that contain asbestos may be at greater risk.
  • Mesothelioma is rare cancer. It is a type of cancer that develops from the Mesothelium, the pleural membrane. It is asbestos-related cancer. Because of its long latency period, it could take up to 40 years to understand the primary symptoms. When asbestos fibers get into the lungs, they travel to the ends of small air passages. Through small-air passages, it reaches the pleura. They can cause inflammation and scarring in the pleura. It damages body cells’ DNA, and that results in uncontrolled cell growth.
Lung Cancer: 
  • Asbestos exposure causes a large number of deaths due to lung cancer. People involved in the mining, milling, manufacturing and use of asbestos and its products are at higher risk. Coughing and a change in breathing are the most common symptoms of lung cancer. There could be other symptoms like persistent chest pains, shortness of breath, hoarseness, and anemia. Smokers who have an asbestos exposure history have a significantly greater risk of developing lung.
Other Cancers: 
  • There is enough evidence to prove cancers in the larynx, esophagus, oral cavity, colon, stomach, and kidney may be the result of asbestos exposure.
Other Types of Asbestos-Related Diseases

Mesothelioma, asbestosis, and lung cancer are the most common health effects of asbestos. But there are other diseases one may suffer from regular asbestos exposure.

  •   Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD): Workers exposed to asbestos have a greater risk of COPD. This disease restricts airflow from the lungs to other parts of the body.


  •   Kidney cancer: Workers exposed to asbestos on the job have a 20% greater chance of developing kidney cancer than those, who are not exposed, according to a Canadian study published in 2018.


  •   Pleural effusions: Pleural effusions occur when fluid builds up within the pleura, the lining of the lungs. They can cause chest pain, coughing, and breathing problems.


  •   Pleural plaques: If asbestos fibers reach the lungs, they may damage the pleura and cause collagen to build up. Over time, collagen becomes hard and forms pleural plaques. It is a chalky and harmless substance.


  •   Pleuritis: Also known as pleurisy, this condition occurs when the pleura becomes irritated. It causes chest pain and difficulty breathing.

Some of these health problems, like pleural plaques, are not as serious as mesothelioma. However, doctors sometimes mistake mesothelioma for a less serious condition, so it’s important to get examined by a specialist if you were exposed to asbestos and are now struggling with health issues.

Who is most at risk?

People at higher risk are those who’ve worked as carpenters, plumbers, electricians, asbestos miners, painters, and builders. If someone has worked in shipbuilding, railway engineering, and factories that made asbestos products, he or she also has a higher risk.

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