What are the dangers of asbestos exposure?
When a person is exposed to asbestos and breathes it in or swallows it, its fibers may become lodged in lung tissue or the lining of the lungs, abdomen or heart. Once these fibers enter the body, the body has trouble expelling them. Over a period of years or decades, they cause irritation, swelling and scarring. They even may change the genetic make-up of the cells, leading to the development of cancer. Asbestos exposure has been linked to mesothelioma, asbestosis, lung cancer, pleural disorders and other health problems.
How does asbestos enter the body?
Asbestos most often enters the body through the mouth, when fibers are inhaled. Asbestos fibers are small and easily airborne, where they may be inhaled. They may become lodged in the lung tissue when this occurs, leading to serious respiratory disorders. Another common route of introduction into the body is ingestion. Just as fibers are inhaled, they may be swallowed. They may also land on drinking water or food and be ingested in that way.
Who is at the greatest risk of exposure?
Asbestos miners are at the greatest risk of being exposed to asbestos fibers, as they deal directly with the mineral. Another type of at-risk profession is shipyard work, particularly for members of the U.S. Navy that served between World War II and the Vietnam War, when military asbestos use was at its highest. Others who may be at risk include construction workers, aircraft and auto mechanics, railroad workers, building engineers and boiler operators. Veterans who served in any branch of the U.S. military may be at risk because it was used in various applications in the Army, Marines, Air Force and Navy.
What is secondary exposure?
Secondary exposure refers to a situation where a person who does not work directly with or around asbestos is exposed. This most often occurs when a spouse, parent or other family member works with asbestos and unknowingly carries asbestos fibers home on their clothing, skin, hair and shoes. Spouses of workers who dealt with asbestos were at a particularly high risk of exposure when they shook out and washed the workers’ clothes.
What is occupational asbestos exposure?
Occupational asbestos exposure involves exposure at the workplace or in relation to one’s job duties. This is the primary source of all asbestos-related illnesses in the U.S.
Does exposure to asbestos still occur today?
People are still exposed to asbestos today, although the mineral is heavily regulated by the federal government. Asbestos is not banned in all uses, and that means that workers at facilities that manufacture, package and distribute these products could be at risk of exposure. Though asbestos is banned in spray-on fire retardants, insulation and other building materials, construction workers and others may be exposed when they work on buildings that were constructed before asbestos was regulated. Even firefighters and other emergency personnel who respond to building fires may be exposed if asbestos was used in the building.
What should I do if I have a history of exposure?
If you worked with asbestos or in an industry where you were exposed to products that contained asbestos, it is important to inform your doctor. Together, you and your doctor will need to be vigilant in watching for the symptoms of mesothelioma, lung cancer and other asbestos-related health problems, which may mimic the symptoms of other less serious conditions. Your doctor may also want to perform regular examinations to make sure you have the best chance of recognizing any problems early on, when treatment is most viable.
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