Asbestos is one of the biggest safety concerns in the U.S., though not everyone is aware of how dangerous it really is. The truth is that asbestos is not as much of a public issue as it should be. Advocacy groups have tried to rally for support behind banning asbestos in all consumer products and building materials, but often to no avail.
The problem with asbestos, which is a naturally occurring mineral that was and is used in many building, insulation, and consumer products, is that any time asbestos is disturbed, small microscopic fibers can break off and become airborne. These particles can lodge in the lungs or elsewhere in the body, and cause serious and even fatal health conditions.
Here are 10 of the reasons that safety groups monitor the use and handling of asbestos in homes, schools, hospitals, public buildings and businesses around the country. These are also 10 reasons why the public needs to be aware — and ultimately more concerned — with asbestos.
1.) Mesothelioma: A Rare and Deadly Disease
Asbestos is the only known cause of this cancer, mesothelioma. Mesothelioma is often associated with poor prognosis. It’s a form of aggressive lung cancer that is difficult to diagnose and treat. Mesothelioma may take decades – often 20-50 years – to manifest after a person is exposed to asbestos. It’s among the top fears that have led to so much careful regulation of asbestos.
2.) Lung Cancer
Apart from mesothelioma, asbestos exposure can also cause other kinds of lung cancer. In fact, any of several types of asbestos have been linked to increased risks for lung cancer – consequently, there is no “safe” type of asbestos.
Exposure to asbestos can also cause some types of scarring in the lung tissue. With this lung disease, called asbestosis, the lung walls can harden and become rigid. Symptoms include the following:
- Shortness of breath
- Persistent cough
- Appetite/weight loss
Research has found that risks for asbestosis are increased with smoking.
4.) Secondhand Exposure
The term “secondhand” is most commonly associated with smoking. But it also refers to asbestos. Secondhand asbestos exposure can also cause the above health conditions.
In some cases, individuals have gotten sick just from washing the clothes of a worker who had been exposed to airborne asbestos at work, or through direct contact with that person after his or her shift. This sad consequence affects families. It’s a big reason for real care and vigilance in asbestos handling.
5.) Pleural Effusion
Another health condition caused by asbestos is called pleural effusion. With this condition, fluid builds up in the tissues around the lung. This can affect breathing. It compresses the lung by limiting the room that it has to function. On its own, pleural effusion can be a serious health issue that can impair quality of life and lead to other complications.
6.) Stomach or Gastro Cancers
There is some proof to support the link between asbestos and stomach cancer. Over the years, scientists have raised the question of just how much asbestos can increase risks when lodged in the stomach or linings of the gastrointestinal system. For instance, a 2005 study found higher than usual cancer rates in a control group, and supports the idea that asbestos could affect risks for stomach cancer and other related cancers.
7.) Laryngeal Cancer
Some studies have also shown a possible link between asbestos and laryngeal cancer, specifically, cancer of the hypopharynx. The hypopharynx and surrounding tissues are located near the opening of the esophagus. The idea is that, over time, swallowed fibers can contribute to the changes that introduce abnormal cell growth in this part of the body. Again, experts find that the risk is greatest when combined with the use of tobacco products and other factors like family medical history or reflux.
8.) Ovarian Cancer
Another possible effect of asbestos pertains exclusively to women. Some studies suggest that asbestos could raise risks for ovarian cancer. However, experts have said that the relationship between asbestos and ovarian cancer is unclear, and further studies will be needed to figure out just what effect, if any, asbestos exposure has on the female reproductive system.
9.) Testicular Cancer
In rare cases, asbestos exposure can affect the male reproductive system, as well. Fibers that get embedded in the body can cause changes in a testicular lining called the tunica vaginalis. Experts call this condition “testicular mesothelioma.” It is much less common that pleural mesothelioma, but it’s one more reason to crack down on improper handling of dangerous asbestos-containing materials.
10.) Heart Problems
Another rare condition is called “pericardial mesothelioma.” This is when the lodged fibers affect tissues around the heart. This is another fairly aggressive cancer which can also cause complications like trouble breathing or chest pain.
Know the signs of asbestos danger, and work to protect yourself and others from these tragic and disturbing types of diseases.