What Exactly is Asbestos | Types and Symptoms of Asbestos

There are six minerals made of fibers that are found naturally in the earth. These minerals are being referred to as Asbestos, and they have been used for construction and manufacturing for many reasons.

What Exactly is Asbestos | Types and Symptoms of Asbestos
Image credit – nytimes.com

Asbestos fibers possess some very useful qualities such as; resistance to heat, fire, chemicals, and electricity. These fibers are also very flexible in nature. These qualities are the major reason why they have been used in homes and businesses, automotive parts, textiles, and even construction materials.

But when handled or damaged, the fibers that form Asbestos easily get separated into tiny pieces. They are usually too small to see and very easy to breathe in. after which they may build up in the lungs of such individual and cause serious health problems.

It is for this reason that the U.S government has placed a ban on all new uses of Asbestos. But still certain uses that were developed before 1989 are legal.

Common types of Asbestos

Although there are several types of Asbestos, only one of them is still being imported, processed, or distributed in the United States. It is the chrysotile (or white) asbestos. Presently, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has proposed a ban on the activity.

Amongst all the types of Asbestos, the Chrysotile asbestos is the most commonly used, and this makes up 90 – 95% of the asbestos used in buildings in the United States. It is also used in a variety of insulation and fireproofing goods by manufacturers.

The other types of asbestos are:

  • Actnolite: This type was the one used in things like paints, sealants, drywall, insulation, and cement.
  • Crocidolite: Also known as the “Blue Asbestos”. Studies and research still suggests that this type may be tied to more illnesses and deaths than any of the other types of asbestos. It was less resistant to heat than the others, so manufacturers rarely used it. In things like tiles, insulation, and cement are where this type can be found.
  • Amosite: Also known as “Brown Asbestos”, and considered to be one of the most dangerous types of asbestos by experts. It makes up about 5% of the asbestos materials used in U.S buildings and this makes it the second most commonly used type after Chrysotile asbestos.
  • Tremolite: This type actually led to many cases of diseases related to asbestos and cancer. It is no longer being mined. The tremolite asbestos used to be used in making products like insulation, sealants, paint, and plumbing materials.
  • Anthophyllite: This was not used as often as the other type of asbestos in consumer goods, and is a rare form of asbestos. But it can be found in some cement and insulation materials.

What are the Symptoms after being exposed to Asbestos?

It is usually until years after exposure to Asbestos that one begins to notice the symptoms. It could generally bring on signs like:

  1. Coughing up blood
  2. Feeling of wheeziness or hoarseness
  3. Feeling of the inability to get enough air to breathe
  4. A kind of cough that lingers and gradually gets worse
  5. Trouble being able to swallow
  6. Anemia
  7. Chest pain or some sort of tightness in the chest
  8. General loss of appetite
  9. Physically obvious loss of weight
  10. Unexplainable tiredness
  11. Swelling in the neck or face

It is usually advisable to get checked by your doctor to properly ascertain what is going on with you, as these can equally be symptoms of so many other conditions.

Also, if you feel or think that you have been exposed to asbestos at some point, it is best to see a doctor who is an expert, whether or not you are having any of the symptoms.

Health Problems that can be caused by Asbestos

The risk of contracting diseases like mesothelioma, lung cancer, and asbestosis are very high when one breathes in the fibers over long periods of time. Smokers are even more affected because the cigarette smoke irritates the lungs, and makes it harder for the lungs to remove the asbestos fibers.

Mesothelioma

For anyone who has worked with the substance (asbestos), shared a home with someone who has, or lived close to an asbestos mine, it is advised you see your doctor if you’re having any trouble breathing. If you also feel like it is affecting your health, do well to see your doctor.

In order to see how much air your lungs can hold, they can do a pulmonary function test, or a chest X-ray. To also determine if you have mesothelioma, a CT scan or biopsy might help them.

Mesothelioma is a type of cancer that affects the lining of the lungs, chest, or abdomen, and an early warning sign is the buildup of fluid around the lungs. Other symptoms of this may include problems with breathing, pain or lump in the belly, pain around the rib cage, fatigue, and constipation.

People who have this rare kind of cancer are those who were typically exposed to asbestos, or lived with someone who was. Studies have shown that it can take up to 20 years before symptoms begin to show up. Treatment for this may include surgery, chemotherapy, or radiation therapy.

Asbestosis

The name or term “Asbestosis” refers to a condition that affects the lungs. It can lead to shortness of breath, cough, and even permanent lung damage. Symptoms of this medical condition might also include fingernails and toenails that look oddly wide or round, and chest pain. Just like mesothelioma, it doesn’t manifest it’s symptoms until years are an individual has breathed in asbestos fibers on regular basis.

There is no way medically to heal the damage caused to the alveoli of the lungs. But a good and experienced doctor can help you manage the condition and symptoms. Oxygen may be prescribed to help you breathe. You may even be placed on lung transplant list if you have severe symptoms. Naturally, people with asbestosis are more likely to develop lung cancer.

What to do if your home is already open to Asbestos

Except they get damaged or disturbed, materials with asbestos in them probably won’t put your health at risk. If you know, or sense that any material in your home contains asbestos, and it is in good condition, you will just have to check on it every now and then for any signs of damage or wearing and tearing, which could lead to the release of the asbestos fibers.

In general, it can’t be possible to tell if a material in your home contains asbestos just by looking at it (except it has a warning label on it). So just leave it alone if you aren’t completely sure.

You should think about getting your home properly inspected for asbestos if:

  • You plan on remodeling it.
  • It has damaged materials like insulations that are falling apart or crumbling drywall.

There is need for you to hire an experienced and accredited asbestos inspector to check your home thoroughly. They can take samples safely to be sent to a lab for testing. They in turn will tell you what necessary steps to take next, if the test comes with a result that says your home has asbestos in it. The EPA (Environmental Protection Agency) advises against trying to take samples yourself. This is due to the high risk to your health involved if not correctly and properly done.

You should not try to do it on your own, as an accredited contractor can safely repair or remove asbestos from your home. This is because your or your family member could end up inhaling the fibers that might be released.

You should ask your inspector or an independent testing contractor to check for asbestos in the air after the contractor has finished the work of removing asbestos from your home. This can then tell for sure if your home is safe and if the removal of asbestos from your home was a success.

Contact your state to connect you with accredited professionals near you.

Can Exposure to Asbestos be Avoided?

Asbestos happens to be so common that everyone at some point has been around it. It is present in the air, water, and the soil. But it is unlikely to make you sick when exposed at such low levels.

Asbestos can easily fill the air when buildings are demolished or homes being remodeled. It is released as the materials where it is contained are being destroyed. The toxic fibers may also be released during home maintenance and repairs. So you have less to worry about if you are around asbestos products so long as they are not damaged in any way.

Since the 1970s, the U.S government has been controlling the use of asbestos. It is no longer being mined or processed in the country anymore. But nonetheless, it is still used in items like cement pipes, vinyl floor tiles, brake pads, and cloths. The EPA has placed a ban on it in paper, flooring felt, fake fireplace embers, and other products.

When the World Trade Center was destroyed on September 11, 2001, hundreds of tons of asbestos were released into the air. Nearby residents, rescue workers, and those who helped clean up the area may have inhaled it for sure. But even for years, the long term effect of the exposure will not be known.

Your chances of being infected with this disease or related ones are low, except you work directly with asbestos on a regular basis.

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