Asbestos Health Effects

SEM Image of Asbestos Fibers from Attic Insulation

What is asbestos?

Asbestos is a heat resistant mineral found naturally in rock and soil. Asbestos is made of thin, needle-like fibers and is often used in building materials and construction. Asbestos can be found in sprayed-on fireproofing, pipe insulation, floor tiles, cement pipe and sheet, roofing felts and shingles, popcorn ceiling tiles, fire-resistant drywall, drywall joint compounds, and acoustical products.



Can exposure to asbestos affect my health?

People can be exposed to asbestos by inhaling airborne asbestos (most common scenario) or by swallowing asbestos fibers from contaminated food or liquids. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC) Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry, “after exposure occurs, asbestos can’t be removed from the lungs.”

The National Cancer Institute states, “when asbestos fibers are breathed in, they may get trapped in the lungs and remain there for a long time. Over time, these fibers can accumulate and cause scarring and inflammation, which can affect breathing and lead to serious health problems.”

According to the American Cancer Society, asbestos fibers that are inhaled “can stick to mucus in the throat, trachea (windpipe), or bronchi (large breathing tubes of the lungs).” Furthermore, asbestos fibers that penetrate the outer lining of the lung and chest wall “can irritate the cells in the lung or chest wall and eventually cause lung cancer or mesothelioma.”

The California Department of Public Health states, breathing high levels of asbestos fibers can lead to an increased risk of lung cancer, mesothelioma (a cancer of the lining of the chest and the abdominal cavity), and asbestosis (lungs become scarred with fibrous tissue).

According to Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), exposure to asbestos can cause disabling or fatal diseases such as asbestosis (an emphysema-like condition), lung cancer, mesothelioma (a cancerous tumor that spreads rapidly in the cells of membranes covering the lungs and body organs) and gastrointestinal cancer.

In addition, the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) agrees that asbestos exposure is associated with major health effects including: lung cancer, mesothelioma (a rare form of cancer that is found in the thin lining of the lung, chest and the abdomen and heart), and asbestosis (a serious progressive, long-term, non-cancer disease of the lungs).

The asbestos fibers can remain in the lungs for a long time, increasing the risk of disease. The symptoms of these diseases generally do not appear for 20 or more years after initial exposure.

If you are concerned about asbestos exposure, the CDC advises that you should visit your doctor or other medical provider. Your doctor can decide if you need additional testing and, if needed, advise you on how to prevent further harm to your respiratory system.

Learn more about our asbestos testing services and keep yourself and your family safe.


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