How Dangerous is Asbestos?
Asbestos fibers can cause irreversible long-term lung damage when they are inhaled. Breathing in asbestos fibers is the leading cause of asbestosis (a non-cancerous lung disease) and mesothelioma (a cancer tumor, usually in the lungs). More than 500,000 people have been killed in the US as a result of being in contact with asbestos containing materials.
The longer an individual is exposed to asbestos fibers, the greater chance of long-term lung damage. Asbestos products are most dangerous when they have been disturbed, damaged or broken (which is know as “friable asbestos”). Friable asbestos can easily release asbestos fibers into the air, which can remain there for days or weeks after being released. Asbestos fibers are practically indestructible. They are resistant to extreme heat and most chemicals. Just inhaling a small number of these fibers can cause long-term lung damage.
Asbestos fibers, once they enter the lungs, can permanently scar and damage them, causing both cancerous and non-cancerous lung diseases to develop. In many cases, these diseases don’t display any symptoms for 10-30 years after exposure to asbestos.
One of the most commonly known lung diseases that is caused by asbestos is mesothelioma. This is a rare form of cancer that is almost always caused by breathing in asbestos fibers. In most cases, mesothelioma is malignant and results in death.
To illustrate the dangers of mesothelioma, here’s an infographic created by Bergman Draper Ladenburg Hart (CC BY 3.0 US) (click to enlarge).