Asbestos is a naturally occurring mineral fiber frequently used in building materials. It’s commonly used in insulation and fire resistant materials because of its thermal qualities. In years past asbestos was widely used in many industrial, commercial and home applications. In recent years the use of asbestos-containing products has significantly declined in the United States, and strict guidelines have been implemented regarding how these products can be safely removed and disposed of when detected. If asbestos fibers never broke down and became airborne there would only be praises for it because of its phenomenal ability to resist heat and fire and help keep us warm in the winter and cool in the summer.
Unfortunately, asbestos fibers can breakdown into microscopically thin fibers and become airborne. Once airborne, the fibers can cause potentially fatal conditions such as Mesothelioma. This dangerous disease requires little exposure to these dangerous thin fibers. The other cancers and illnesses associated with airborne asbestos require more frequent and lengthy exposure. Unlike dust from other building materials, the microscopic fibers cannot be seen when it is in the air and no other sense is able to detect its presence as it has no smell, no taste and it doesn’t make a sound.
There are two common types of this often fatal cancer caused by asbestos, each based on the location in the body it affects.
The most common type is Pleural Mesothelioma, named because it develops in the pleural mesothelium (lung lining). Symptoms of Pleural Mesothelioma include difficulty in breathing, chest pain, weight loss, fever, night sweats and cough. Not all symptoms need to be present to receive a diagnosis of this rare and fatal disease.
Peritoneal Mesothelioma, affecting about one third of all those who contract the cancer, can be found in the abdomen. The symptoms of Peritoneal Mesothelioma include swelling, abdominal pain, weight loss, a mass in the abdomen, bowel obstruction, blood-clotting abnormalities, anemia and fever.
Between ten and forty years often pass from the time of exposure to the time one is diagnosed with the condition. More than 2,000 cases are reported each year in the United States alone. Due to the strength of the correlation between asbestos exposure and Mesothelioma, a fatal link is known to exist.
It is imperative that materials containing asbestos be used responsibly. Those working with it must treat it as the potentially hazardous material it can deteriorate into. To prevent the contraction of fatal and otherwise devastating illness, factory owners, contractors and those in charge of worksites where asbestos can be found must let employees know that they are working with material that contains the harmful substance and how to work with it safely.
Homeowners and business owners concerned about the presence of asbestos in their home can have samples drawn and tested. One could prevent exposure by having materials tested before entering the demolition phase of a project. Before ripping out walls or floors, have the materials tested. It could save a life.