During the twentieth century, asbestos was one of the most commonly used materials in construction and manufacturing, particularly during the Industrial Revolution. It was not until around the 1940's that a link was discovered between asbestos exposure and serious health problems. Asbestos exposure is linked to the development of respiratory diseases such as mesothelioma, also known as asbestos cancer, asbestosis and lung cancer. Asbestos exposure can occur anywhere in the workplace, in homes and throughout the community. Everyone is exposed to asbestos at some point in their lifetime. Low levels of asbestos can be found in the environment such as in air, soil and water. However it is uncommon for people to become ill from limited exposure. Most people that become sick are usually exposed to asbestos on a regular basis such as in the workplace or in their homes.
Asbestos Exposure Symptoms
Asbestos exposure symptoms include the following:
- Difficult breathing
- Persistent cough
- Shortness of breath
- Pain in the chest
- Pain in the lungs
- Weight loss
- Loss of appetite
- Night sweats
- Coughing up blood
- High white cell count
Where Asbestos Exposure Can Occur
Asbestos exposure can occur naturally in the environment, through manufactured asbestos containing products, and through the disturbance of asbestos containing materials.
Naturally Occurring Exposure
Asbestos is a naturally occurring mineral that can be found in mountainous regions throughout the world. Exposure becomes a danger when asbestos–containing soil or bedrock is disturbed through activities such as mining, driving over soil, excavation, or natural weathering. Miners, hikers, or anyone exposed to or living near a disturbed site is at–risk of asbestos exposure. Populations living close to mines are at a greater risk of developing mesothelioma, asbestosis, or lung cancer.
Many American workers have endured prolonged asbestos exposure in the workplace across a variety of industries. Shipyard workers, miners, factory workers, military workers, and construction workers were all at risk of developing an asbestos–related disease. The families of these workers were also at risk of second hand asbestos exposure from fibers being brought home on hair, clothing or shoes. Teachers, students and staff in older school buildings may also be at risk due to asbestos materials in ceilings, flooring, and tiles.
Exposure Through the Disturbance of Asbestos-Containing Materials
Asbestos exposure becomes a major health hazard if asbestos–containing materials have been disturbed such as in renovations, demolitions, and home re–models and repairs. Natural disasters such as hurricanes, tornados, earthquakes, tsunamis and floods can also cause damage to asbestos–containing materials. A good example of dangerous asbestos exposure occurred during the September 11th attacks on The World Trade Center. Workers, firefighters, policeofficers and volunteers that rushed to the scene after the collapse of the towers were all exposed to airborne asbestos fibers in the rubble at Ground Zero.
Asbestos Health Effects
The health effects of asbestos exposure can be devastating. When airborne asbestos fibers become embedded in the lungs, the body has no way of expelling them. This leads to severe upper respiratory problems and diseases. Unfortunately the health effects take a long time to develop, leading to late detection of asbestos–related cancers. Adverse health effects of asbestos exposure include:
- Lung Cancer
- Pleural Disease
Asbestos Cancer Treatments at Penn Medicine
At Penn Medicine, treatment for mesothelioma and asbestos diseases may include one or more of the following treatments, or a combination of the following treatments: