Asbestos was recently discovered on government land during preparation for construction of a school building in Australia. The soil containing asbestos was dumped in a children’s park.
Children played on the mound of soil for days before the presence of asbestos was reported. It is widely known that asbestos is an extremely hazardous natural substance; and, of course, it was quickly and carefully removed.
Australia’s Environment Protection Authority (EPA) has since made declarations that the contaminated materials are no longer present in the soil.
Although asbestos has long been known to cause fatal illnesses, it is still present within the earth and it is widely used in construction in the U.S. Modern-day exposure to asbestos that puts a person at risk for asbestos-related diseases is still possible.
In the U.S., different forms of asbestos are found in many schools, homes, and buildings built before the 1990s.
There are also numerous asbestos mines throughout the U.S. The children who were exposed to asbestos in the soil were not reported as being in a high-risk category.
Rather, it is workers who have directly been in contact with asbestos materials in the course of performing their jobs that are most in peril of developing cancers that are caused by asbestos, such as mesothelioma.
Asbestos Exposure, including Non-Work Related
People who work in construction trades are the ones most heavily exposed to asbestos today. In the past, auto mechanics, pipefitters, and workers in shipyards and the military were also heavily exposed. Outside of the workplace, those who may come into contact with asbestos include:
People in any type of structure in which asbestos materials are crumbling, loose, or disturbed are exposed. When renovations are made or during asbestos abatement, trained and certified asbestos contractors are the ones who should encapsulate and remove the asbestos.
Coming into contact with natural outcroppings of asbestos, as the children in Australia were, is a form of exposure. In places where asbestos is naturally occurring, the substance is close to the surface of the earth. Exposure can result from dirt biking and gardening and during auto repair and urban spelunking.
Minerals that contain asbestos are found across the U.S., but concentrations are primarily in the far west. There is also a solid line of asbestos-bearing minerals found on the eastern seaboard, roughly along the Appalachia.
In technological and natural disasters, the general population can be exposed to asbestos. An example is when the World Trade Center in New York City was destroyed. A recent study of Ground Zero responders showed a 19% increase in cancers.
Some of the impact of asbestos exposure doesn’t manifest for decades, including asbestos-related lung cancer and mesothelioma. It is understood that as the decades pass, more and more 9-11 first responders will be diagnosed with asbestos-related diseases.
How Asbestos Fibers Cause Health Problems
Asbestos was among the materials most commonly used in the construction, manufacturing, and shipbuilding industries for approximately a century.
There is evidence that many asbestos manufacturers knew of serious health problems linked to asbestos as early as the 1930s, but that information was not revealed to workers.
It wasn’t until the 1960s that workers and the general public learned about the alarming increase in asbestosis and lung cancer cases among asbestos workers.
Inhaling microscopic fibers of asbestos can cause a range of serious health issues. Anyone who breathes asbestos fibers into their lungs has fibers in their air passages and on lung cells. Some of those fibers become trapped in the lungs, resulting in severe respiratory damage.
When asbestos fibers clear the lungs, they are usually carried into the stomach. The fibers can become stuck in membrane linings of the intestines or stomach or distributed throughout the body through the blood.
The fibers have the potential to promote cell division errors that lead to cancer, no matter where the fibers are in the body.
What illnesses are associated with asbestos?
The most common diseases resulting from exposure to asbestos include:
- Asbestos pleural disease, a disease that causes the thin membranes lining the chest and long to scar; it is nonmalignant.
- Asbestos lung cancer, with the common types of lung cancer being small-cell and non-small cell cancer.
Malignant mesothelioma, which is a rare type of cancer that affects the thin membranes that line the chest and abdomen.
- Cancers of the larynx, esophagus, colon, digestive tract, and kidney, along with various forms of lymphoma.
Asbestosis, which is a nonmalignant disease that causes lung tissue scarring.
How do you know if you have an illness that is caused by asbestos?
Those who are most at risk for asbestos-related disease should be alert to related signs and symptoms. Anyone who is aware of asbestos exposure or suspects that they were exposed should do the same. The following is information on what to look for with the most common asbestos-related illnesses.
Symptoms of Asbestosis
Symptoms of asbestosis don’t usually appear until about 20 years have passed, and the range of time in which symptoms appear is between 10 and 40 years. Symptoms include:
- Tightness in the chest
- Shortness of breath
- Chest pain
- Persistent dry cough
- Loss of appetite
- Enlarged fingertips, which is called finger clubbing
- Deformities in the nails
Symptoms of Mesothelioma
Mesothelioma is cancer of mesothelial tissue often caused by asbestos exposure. Mesothelial tissue is the covering of the lung or the lining of abdominal or pleural cavities.
Signs and symptoms of the disease usually don’t show up until it is in final stages, and they include:
- Difficulty breathing
- Night sweats/fever
- Difficulty swallowing
- A low oxygen level, which is called hypoxemia
- Fluid buildup in the lungs
What to Do if you Have Symptoms of an Asbestos-Related Disease
Hundreds of companies have trust funds established to compensation asbestos claims. Time is of the utmost, in asbestos cases. If you have symptoms of an asbestos-related disease and you are aware of exposure or potential exposure to asbestos in the past, we're here to help.