Asbestos poisoning happens on a much larger scale than most people realise, but is it from recent or past exposure to asbestos?
Asbestos can be found in almost all industrial or residential buildings constructed before the turn of the millennium. Asbestos poisoning, or asbestosis, is a life-threatening lung condition caused by long-term exposure to this asbestos.
The material hasn’t been used for a long time, and most buildings built using the stuff have either been carefully deconstructed or left as they are. That said, deaths caused by asbestosis and the conditions it causes, such as pleural thickening, mesothelioma, and lung cancer, are still taking place today.
Today, we’re going to briefly cover what asbestos poisoning is, and explain exactly why it still plagues the healthcare system today. Then, we’ll give you some tips on how to avoid exposure to asbestos in the environment.
What is Asbestos Poisoning?
As we explained in the intro to this post, asbestosis is a lung condition caused by exposure to asbestos. Asbestos is a fibre-like material once used in buildings for insulation, flooring and roofing which has been banned in the UK since 1999, alongside a number of other countries.
How Does Asbestosis Happen?
Asbestos isn’t dangerous until it’s damaged, and a dust containing asbestos fibres is released. This might occur during the construction of a building using the material, or from the deconstruction of a building which has it embedded in the structure.
These fibres are breathed in, and they cause damage to the lungs over time. So, a person might not even realise they’ve been affected by the dust particles until decades later.
These days, the only people at real risk of being exposed to asbestos for long enough to suffer asbestos poisoning are those who work on old buildings. These include:
· Heating and ventilation engineers
· Demolition workers
· Construction workers
That said, those who worked on building sites prior to bans across the globe still run the risk of developing long-term consequences.
Asbestos Poisoning Symptoms
If you’ve been breathing in asbestos fibres over many years, it can cause scarring in the lungs. This scarring can lead to:
- Shortness of breath
- A persistent cough
- Wheezing when you breathe
- Fatigue or extreme tiredness
- Pain in your shoulder or chest
- And in very advanced cases, swollen fingertips
Unfortunately, it can take 20 to 30 years for symptoms of asbestosis to appear, as the fibres lay dormant in the body and are impossible for it to break down. This is one of the reasons cases are still being found today.
What Conditions Can it Lead to?
We touched on these briefly in the intro, but asbestosis often causes other life-threatening conditions such as pleural disease, which is a thickening of the lining covering the lungs. Mesothelioma, a cancer that affects the lining of the lungs, heart or testicles, as well as lung cancer, are also some of the more serious conditions asbestosis can cause.
These are usually the conditions that result in death. So, when we’re talking about asbestos poisoning deaths in the next section, many of them will be from the above conditions.
Is Asbestos Poisoning Still Around Today?
The two main parts of this question we’re going to cover are whether people are still exposed to asbestos today, and how many people actually die from asbestosis in 2020. Let’s take a look…
Are People Still Exposed to Asbestos Today?
Unfortunately, there are thousands of cases of people dying from asbestos poisoning and its related conditions every year. Despite most of these cases originating from exposure before global asbestos bans, people can still be exposed to asbestos today.
As we mentioned in the previous section, the UK didn’t fully ban asbestos products until 1999. The European Union’s deadline for member states to end its use was only passed 10 years ago. What’s more, the US is one of the only countries where the substance is still legally used, meaning it’s prevalent to this day.
The Health and Safety Executive have, therefore, stated that asbestos can be found in any industrial or residential building built or refurbished before the year 2000. Based on this claim, it is estimated that over 50 percent of UK homes have the substance in them, which could be lethal if it’s disturbed.
There’s also asbestos in the natural environment, which we’ll cover in the next section when we discuss ways to avoid exposure to it.
How Many People Die of Asbestosis and Related Conditions Today?
It’s estimated that an average of 13 people die every day in the UK from conditions caused by exposure to asbestos. This is more than double the number of people who die in road traffic accidents.
The Health and Safety executive released figures in 2019 which showed the true scale of asbestos-related deaths. According to their figures, over 5,000 UK residents died from asbestos-related diseases in 2019 including mesothelioma, lung cancer and asbestosis deaths. To add to this, another study reported that 39,275 people in the US died from asbestos-related diseases in 2016.
Because cancer and mesothelioma have such a strong causation relationship with asbestos, these figures represent a pretty clear view of the death rates. These rates appear to have grown very steeply over the past 50 years from exposure during the 1980s.
Because exposure continued until the asbestos ban in 1999, and the risk of exposure still remains in the US, there are likely still two decades worth of exposure cases to come. So, it’s expected that these levels will continue to rise as 2020 continues.
How Can I Avoid Exposure to Asbestos?
Now that we’ve gotten you good and worried about being exposed to asbestos poisoning, it’s probably a good idea for us to tell you how to avoid exposure. The rules are already set out for people who work in the construction, carpentry, plumbing and renovation industries where exposure is a genuine day-to-day risk.
For the everyday person, however, avoiding deposits of asbestos found in the environment and in your homes is important, and we’re going to tell you how.
In the Environment
As we know, asbestos is made up of tiny fibres that are too small to be seen by the naked eye. Disturbing these fibres can lead to inhalation and the development of asbestosis.
Asbestos forms naturally in certain types of rock, and is often found near fault zones. If rocks containing asbestos are at the ground surface, you should be able to see little veins running through them.
Natural asbestos can break away from its source and get into soil, and the degradation of old asbestos containing products can also cause it to build up in soil. If you dig dirt or use a leaf blower, it could kick up asbestos particles. What’s more, if you ride a bike or drive a car too fast on unpaved roads you could release particles that way as well.
Although this exposure is quite minimal, and nothing to be too alarmed about, making sure you follow these basic steps should keep your lungs 100 percent asbestos free:
- Cover up sources of asbestos by wetting the ground before gardening or playing.
- Drive slowly on unpaved roads and keep your windows rolled up so you don’t kick up any particles.
- Use asbestos-free soil or landscaping materials to cover gardens and yards that might have asbestos-containing rock or soil.
- Avoid old building sites or places with visible waste.
In the Home
As we mentioned previously, an estimated 50 percent of homes have asbestos in them, especially if they were built before the year 2000. This means that, when you’re doing any kind of renovation work, drilling holes, knocking through walls, or any invasive surgery to the house, you run the risk of releasing asbestos.
If you want to avoid this, and possibly developing asbestosis or asbestos poisoning in the future, it’s important to follow these rules:
- If you’re not sure whether there is asbestos in the area of the house you’re working on, talk to your local council or environmental agency to have the area checked. If they find any asbestos-containing materials, they can safely remove it for you without any trouble.
- When you’re cleaning up during your renovation, make sure to use wet rags to dust instead of a dry rag or duster, because this will stop you from kicking up any unnecessary particles.
- Use a vacuum cleaner with a high efficiency HEPA filter.
- If you’re doing no renovation at all, but there’s construction going on close to your house, keep your windows and doors closed, especially on windy days, just in case they release any asbestos particles.
So, What Now?
In this post, we’ve managed to cover what asbestosis and asbestos poisoning are, how they’re caused, the reason why they’re so prevalent today. We’ve also shared some tips on how to avoid coming into contact with asbestos.