The name ‘asbestos’ refer to the group of minerals that occur naturally in the environment. They are found as bundles of fibers and can be separated into thin, durable threads. Asbestos has been widely used in various industries since it is resistant to heat, fire and chemicals. Also it does not conduct electricity. It is widely used in the building and construction industry, ship building industry, automotive industry etc.
These days asbestos products are so common that people can get exposed to asbestos anywhere – work places, communities, homes etc. Tiny asbestos fibers are released into the air if products containing asbestos are disturbed.
When these fibers are breathed in they may get trapped in the lungs and stay there for a long time. The fibers thus accumulated can cause scarring and inflammation, which lead to severe respiratory problems. Hence asbestos has been classified as a known carcinogen, a substance that causes cancer.
Substantial evidence has been found that those who are exposed to asbestos are at the risk of lung cancer and mesothelioma, which is a comparatively rare type of cancer of the thin membranes that line the chest and abdomen. Apart from lung cancer and mesothelioma studies have suggested connection between gastrointestinal and colorectal cancers and cancers of the throat, kidney, esophagus and gall bladder.
Every one is exposed to asbestos at some point of time during their life because of the presence of asbestos in air, water and soil even though in small amount. But the people who fall ill are those who are exposed to it on a regular basis. Often this happens in a job where they have to directly handle the material. Though health risks from asbestos exposure increase with heavier and longer exposure, certain cases have been found where the individuals had only a brief exposure. It takes many years after the exposure for the symptoms to develop and it may take from 10 to 40 years or more.
Even the family members of workers who are heavily exposed to asbestos are an increased risk of developing mesothelioma. They get exposed to the dangerous fibers from the shoes, clothing, skin and hair of the workers. However, there are a few laws to reduce this risk. Some employees are required to shower and change their clothes before they go home, store their street clothes in a separate area of the work place designed for it or wash their clothes at home separately.
Smoking can add to the risk of developing lung cancer. Smokers who are exposed to asbestos have a greater risk of health hazards. It is advisable that people who were exposed to asbestos on the job at any time or those who suspect of their exposure should not smoke at all. Also it is important to consult a doctor even if the symptoms do not occur.