Many industries can require that you work with or near asbestos fibers, which may cause mesothelioma and other asbestos-related conditions. Asbestos was widely used across the United States in our past, which puts many Americans at risk today, especially high-risk professions like construction workers, mechanics, and shipyard workers. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), almost 70% of all mesothelioma cases are work-related.
Asbestos is a mineral fiber that occurs in rocks and soil, according to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). Asbestos has strong, long fibers and is heat-resistant, which is why it was used as a building construction material for insulation and as a fire retardant.
What Does Asbestos Do to Your Body?
Asbestos fibers are easily inhaled and can be carried to the lower part of the lung. Asbestos has been known to cause the following conditions:
- Fibrotic lung disease
- Lung Cancer
- Pleural Plaques
- Pleural Effusion
It’s important to know the different degrees of asbestos exposure, which will be discussed below.
Understanding the Degrees of Exposure
Most asbestos-related diseases arise only after years of regular exposure. An extremely intense short-term exposure can also raise your risk of disease later in life.
Short-Term Asbestos Exposure
One-time asbestos exposure generally isn’t a serious risk, except in extreme situations where toxic dust clouds the air. Asbestos-related diseases are typically caused after months or years of regular exposure. In general, here’s what you can expect from a one-time exposure or a very light exposure over a short period of time:
- Short term exposure rarely causes disease
- One-off exposure isn’t a major risk unless it’s a major disaster with extreme exposure
- Short term exposures can add up as asbestos exposure is cumulative
Long-Term Asbestos Exposure
Long-term exposure to asbestos is dangerous and can lead to disease. Many factors are involved in developing an asbestos-related disease, including the length of exposure and the concentration of fibers inhaled. Most people who get sick from exposure have worked heavily with asbestos for most of their careers. Here’s what you can expect from long-term exposure:
- Long-term exposure (months or years of regular exposure) is known to cause disease
- Long-term exposure is a major risk
How Much Asbestos is Harmful?
No amount of asbestos exposure is considered safe, and you should always take precautions to avoid inhaling toxic dust. Most cases of asbestos cancer and asbestosis can be traced to occupational asbestos exposure. For example, a history of working with insulation products in the 1950s or 1960s is a major risk factor.
What to do After Asbestos Exposure
If you believe that you’ve been exposed to asbestos at work, there are several steps you can take to protect yourself moving forward.
- Wash your body and your clothes. If you’ve been exposed, immediately washing yourself and your clothes will help limit your exposure.
- Talk with your employer. If you have concerns about workplace exposure, talk with your supervisor about your working conditions.
- Talk with your doctor. While your physician won’t be able to see asbestos in your lungs immediately after exposure, it’s important to let them know so they can monitor it moving forward.
It’s important to note that a one-time exposure to asbestos shouldn’t create any serious health problems.
Learn More About Asbestos Exposure and Protecting Yourself with Baptist Health
If you believe you’ve been exposed to asbestos at the workplace, find a Baptist Health Occupational Medicine location near you.