It is not a new revelation that asbestos carries health risks. In fact, as far back as the days of Ancient Greece, figures such as Pliny the Elder observed high rates of lung disease among people who mined and worked with asbestos. Tragically, when doctors finally began to collect objective evidence of this danger in the early 20th century, the information was hidden from the workers who needed it.
Today there is no way of knowing exactly how many people have been exposed to asbestos without protection or warning over the years. We do know that thousands of Americans die every year from conditions related to asbestos exposure. Exposure to asbestos can result in several different illnesses, all of which are painful and some of which are deadly.
Asbestos poisoning is an umbrella term for any condition caused by asbestos exposure. The danger of this mineral lies in the long, crystalline fibers from which it is composed. These fibers can break off when asbestos is handled, irritating the skin and potentially being inhaled.
Some health problems that have been associated with asbestos exposure include:
- Mesothelioma: This is a cancer of the mesothelium, a protective lining over the lungs and some other internal organs. Mesothelioma develops slowly and may not become symptomatic until years after asbestos exposure ends. Tragically it is often fatal.
- Asbestosis: This is a chronic condition caused by the inhalation of asbestos fibers. It is caused when scars begin to form on lung tissue, which in turns leads to persistent shortness of breath and chest pain. People with asbestosis are at an increased risk for lung cancer.
- Lung cancer: In addition to mesothelioma, asbestos exposure can cause malignant tumors to form almost anywhere in the lungs. Lung cancer is known for metastasizing (spreading across the body) easily, making it a very dangerous illness. It is especially common among asbestos workers who smoke.
- Pleural plaques: These are buildups of scar tissue that can form on the pleura, which are membranes lining the lungs. If they continue to develop, they can become a condition known as diffuse pleural fibrosis, a chronic respiratory condition, or eventually lead to lung cancer.
- Asbestos warts: These form when asbestos fibers lodge in the skin, causing a mild inflammation that is eventually covered by a tough, thick layer of skin. They are not dangerous by themselves, but they are a sign that a person has been exposed to asbestos and need medical monitoring.
If you or a loved one is living with health problems like these after working with asbestos, it is not your fault. We hope you take advantage of all asbestos help resources at your disposal to manage your illness and fight for your health.