Asbestos poisoning is a shocking reality for many who simply did their job. World Health Organization statistics reveal that approximately 125 million people around the world are exposed to asbestos in the workplace, the primary place of exposure. In the year 2004 alone, 107,000 deaths were attributed to asbestos related illnesses, as well as more than 1.5 million Disability Adjusted Life Years (1).
Sadly, the effects of asbestos are often not seen until years, even decades later. Even sadder is that despite awareness of the danger of asbestos, it is still used in a number of products, continuing the exposure.
Asbestos is a natural mineral that has been mined and used in various products. Although asbestos is a naturally occurring substance, it is the process of mining it and using it in manufactured substances that creates a threat to health. The long fibers of asbestos are inhaled or ingested into the body. Although most of the fibers are eliminated, some lodge in the delicate tissues lining the body organs.
Once asbestos fibers lodge in these delicate tissues they can remain for years, causing irritation and inflammation. Eventually, often 15 to 30 years after exposure, the scarring caused by the inflammation may lead to serious illness. There are two primary diseases that result from asbestos poisoning:
Statistics show that the highest risk of asbestos related illness is among miners and construction workers. This is because these workers have been exposed to large amounts of disturbed asbestos fibers. However, because of the wide-range of asbestos use during the 20th century, the exposure is not limited to these occupations.
Because of its versatility, asbestos was used in over 3,000 different products (4) ranging from building products, auto parts, garden products, and even some crayons. Many older buildings contain asbestos. Government regulations and public awareness has greatly reduced the use of asbestos today, but not eliminated it.
The average home owner is not likely to suffer serious complications from asbestos, because the materials are not being disturbed. But any form of remodeling or construction work can cause exposure. An example of a massive disturbance of asbestos fibers was the destruction of the World Trade Center in 2001. The implosion of those buildings sent massive amounts of asbestos fibers into the air.
So, although construction workers, military personnel, and miners face the highest risk, they are certainly not the only ones exposed to this menace. Individual exposure to asbestos must be taken seriously.