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Danger of Asbestos

by LaRita Heet
  • Overview

    Asbestos, a group of materials used most frequently in building insulation and as a fire retardant, can pose a health danger when it is disturbed or otherwise breaks down and the asbestos fibers are breathed into the lungs. Asbestos dangers can exist at home or in the workplace, particularly if you work with materials that contain asbestos.
  • Facts

    According to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), asbestos dangers include deadly lung diseases, as well as other organ diseases. You can't see asbestos, and may not even realize it has endangered your health until many years down the road.
  • Where Is Asbestos?

    Asbestos was once revered as the ideal multiuse, fire-retardant product, and was used in flooring, walls, pipes, cars, hair dryers and more. As of 1989, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) outlawed any new applications for asbestos. Today, it is used in ever-lessening amounts. Asbestos is a danger when it is disturbed during remodeling, construction or if it begins to break down on its own, and the fine fibers are released into the air. Overall, it is not considered a danger if it's in good condition.
  • Cancer

    Asbestos, a known carcinogen, causes lung cancer and mesothelioma (a rare form of cancer). According to the National Cancer Institute, some research has shown that asbestos might also cause gastrointestinal and colorectal cancers, and may lead to a higher risk of developing other forms of cancer.
  • Additional Dangers

    Additional asbestos dangers include an increased risk of developing asbestosis (a type of lung inflammation) and other noncancerous lung-related or pleural conditions.
  • Diagnosis and Treatment

    The Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry states that asbestos health conditions can be difficult to diagnose, even for doctors. A diagnosis is usually made after the doctor takes a detailed medical history (especially about asbestos exposure), conducts a physical exam and orders a chest X-ray and pulmonary function exams. Asbestos health conditions, based primarily on whether or not they're cancerous, are treated through different tools, including surgery, chemotherapy, radiation and/or symptom management.
  • Prevention

    OSHA has established regulations to protect employees from asbestos exposure, as well as workplace hazard classifications, ranging from the most deadly, Class I, to Class IV. By law, employers are required to provide asbestos monitoring, specialized training, respiratory protection gear (primarily, respirators) and ongoing medical exams for asbestos workers. If you're a smoker, quit now because smoking combined with asbestos exposure significantly heightens your risk of developing lung cancer. Never, ever attempt to remove asbestos-containing materials yourself.

    References & Resources