You may have heard of asbestos and the fact that it’s harmful to your health. The silicate material has been used by humans dating back to the Stone Age to strengthen earthenware pots. It was only during the mid-19th century, though, that its usage became widespread in construction because of its insulating and heat-resistant properties.
However, after this boom in asbestos use, it became more apparent that the material had adverse effects on human health. In the early 1900s, researchers determined the link between asbestos and respiratory problems when a postmortem investigation showed asbestos fibrils in a young man’s lungs.
The harmful effects on workers’ bodies are the primary reason why this material, no matter how durable and effective, has been banned in major countries in the world. Here are the health risks that have been confirmed to be caused by asbestos:
Mesothelioma pertains to the cancer of the mesothelium, which is a thin tissue that encases each of your internal organs. When you’re exposed to asbestos, microscopic particles can quickly become airborne and enter through your nasal or oral passageways when the material is abraded.
Asbestos fibrils can penetrate the lining of your lungs, abdomen, and even your heart. These strands can then accumulate in the area and cause significant health problems.
There are four primary areas where mesothelioma occurs, namely:
- Lungs – Because asbestos fibrils can enter human bodies through inhalation with ease, your lungs are highly susceptible to developing pleural mesothelioma if you’re exposed to the material. Its symptoms are shortness of breath, fatigue, chest pain, and fever due to infection.
- Abdomen – Another way that asbestos particles get inside your body is through the oral passageway. That’s why these foreign fibers can penetrate the lining of your stomach and cause it to swell, leading to peritoneal mesothelioma. Manifestations of the disease include loss of appetite, abdominal swelling, and problems with bowel movement.
- Heart – Pericardial mesothelioma affects the mesothelium of the heart. While this is one of the rare forms of cancer, there have been documented cases of asbestos fibrils actually reaching the heart. Chest pains and irregular heartbeats are indicators of this illness.
- Testis – Testicular mesothelioma is the rarest type, with only a few reported cases directly linked to asbestos. Its symptoms include scrotal swelling and abnormal but painless testicular lumps.
If you’re in the construction industry and your workplace is exposed to asbestos, you’re highly at risk of developing lung cancer. While pleural mesothelioma pertains to the swelling on the lining of the lungs, lung cancer is when the fibrils get inside the lung tissues.
Both cancers have the same manifestations during their early stages, where the tumors localize and then spread to nearby organs and lymph nodes. In the fourth stage of lung cancer, though, the disease spreads to other parts of the body like the liver, adrenal glands, brains, and bones. Pleural mesothelioma doesn’t reach as far as the digestive system, but the tumors can seep into the lungs, as well as the bones and the brain.
Another asbestos-related health risk is asbestosis or the inflammation and scarring of the lungs. It’s not as severe as pleural mesothelioma or lung cancer. Still, it increases the likelihood of developing the said diseases if left unattended or if you continue to be exposed to high amounts of the silicate material.
Its symptoms are shortness of breath and chest pains. The illness is also characterized by the presence of a persistent and dry cough, as well as the swelling of the patient’s fingertips and toes, which is known as clubbing.
Similar to testicular mesothelioma for men, women exposed to asbestos may also be at risk for developing ovarian cancer. You don’t even need to work in construction to inhale or ingest asbestos fibrils. You just need to be around someone who’s been handling the material. The microscopic particles can go to the ovaries through the bloodstream and lymphatic stream.
Health issues like pleural plaques and effusions aren’t initially threatening. However, when left unattended, they can develop into more significant problems.
Pleural plaques happen when the fibers accumulate in the membrane of the chest. Effusions are when excess fluid gets into the pleura layers and compresses the lungs, leading to shortness of breath.
Asbestos Detection Technology
Fortunately, portable devices have been developed to detect the presence of asbestos in homes and on construction sites with ease. One gadget is the handheld spectroscopy, which checks asbestos levels by examining the interaction of light and matter. Through the reflection, the tool can identify the elements that comprise a material and its respective ratios.
On the other hand, another device also allows you to detect asbestos in an area through the use of lasers and magnets. This type of sensor emits a laser beam in the air and, since asbestos fibrils align with a magnetic field, these fibers will be pulled in by the detector.
Asbestos has harmful effects on the human body. Inhalation or ingestion of the fibrils is the primary cause of mesothelioma, or cancer of the lining of internal organs, and asbestosis. There has also been a causal link between the silicate material and lung cancer, ovarian cancer, and pleural plaques, as well as effusions.
Even the smallest level of asbestos can be harmful to human health. It’s a good thing that innovations in asbestos detection have been developed to make the task easier.