What are the asbestos health risks?
Asbestos is a major health threat to millions of people around the world and is the single biggest cause of work-related disease deaths in New Zealand. When inhaled, asbestos fibres can be lodged in the lungs and can cause diseases like asbestosis, lung cancer and mesothelioma. The health risks increase the more fibres you inhale, the more frequent/intense your exposure and when you’re exposed over a long period of time.
Asbestos is made up of microscopic fibres that can easily become airborne and inhaled if the product containing asbestos is damaged, altered or deteriorated in any form. Due to their shape, the asbestos particles cling to tissues of the lungs and other areas of the respiratory system. Over time, the tiny asbestos fibres can cause inflammation, causing a number of health problems, the three biggest of which are:
Mesothelioma, is an aggressive cancer that forms in the thin membrane (mesothelium) that protects vital organs in the chest and abdomen. Exposure to asbestos is the only medically-verified cause of this disease.
Most commonly associated with factors like smoking and radon, lung cancer is also known to be intensified by exposure to asbestos.
This degenerative respiratory condition results from the formation of scar tissue plaques on the surface of the pleura (lung linings). It can be a precursor to the onset of mesothelioma (noted above).
Health risks from asbestos depend on a number of factors:
- the amount of asbestos fibres in the air
- how long your exposure lasts
- how often you were exposed
- the size of the asbestos fibres (they must be small enough to be breathed in)
- the amount of time since your first exposure
- the type of asbestos fibre.
People are more likely to experience asbestos-related diseases when they are exposed to higher concentrations of asbestos, are exposed frequently and over long periods of time.