Asbestos Health Effects

The Ill Effects of this Naturally Occurring Mineral

Learn the different types of asbestos used in industry, their effects on health and asbestos removal methods.

Asbestos is a naturally occurring mineral with excellent heat resistance and soundproofing qualities. Because of this, it has been widely used in construction throughout the last hundred years. It was not until the 1990s that asbestos exposure was related to severe health dangers. This asbestos exposure has given rise to substantial asbestos claims and a thriving industry devoted to asbestos detection and removal.

What is Asbestos

Asbestos is a fibrous silicate mineral with valuable properties such as heat insulation, chemical and heat stability, and significant tensile strength. Asbestos was commonly used as an acoustic insulator and in thermal insulation, fireproofing and other building materials. It was also used in many household items, such as ironing boards and cooking utensils.

There are several types of asbestos. Chrysotile asbestos is a curly twisted fibre commonly used for industrial purposes and known as white asbestos. Amosite (brown asbestos) and Crocidolite (Blue Asbestos) are the two other most common forms of asbestos, and they tend to have straight and needle-like fibres.

Asbestos Health Effects

Asbestos is not dangerous. It is only when asbestos fibres are released and enter the airways that serious asbestos health effects can occur. The riskiest asbestos fibres are too small to be seen by the naked eye. After they are inhaled, they can stay and accumulate in the lungs. Asbestos can cause lung cancer, asbestosis (irreversible lung scarring that can be fatal, and mesothelioma.


Asbestosis is usually associated with people who worked in the asbestos industry or those who used asbestos as lagging or as a covering for girders. According to the Mayo Clinic, “People most likely to develop asbestosis are those exposed to asbestos for a long time. Most people with asbestosis got it at work before the government began regulating asbestos products.


Mesothelioma is a type of cancer that is almost always caused by previous exposure to asbestos”. According to research published in the New England Journal of Medicine, Vol. 353, in Oct. 2005, titled “Advances in Malignant Mesothelioma” by B.W. Robinson and R.A. Lake, the latency period of Mesothelioma from first exposure to clinical disease can be from 10 to 50 years. It is this type of exposure that is most problematic to people who do not have any connection with the asbestos industry. When asbestos fibres are breathed into the airways, they can pierce the cells that line the lungs and the airways. Because asbestos does not decay, these fibres can remain for years in the body, forcing the immune system to produce chemicals to try to dissolve these fibres. Such chemicals, produced by the body itself, can cause Mesothelioma.

Where Asbestos is Found

Because of its previous widespread use, asbestos can be found in many places. It is impossible to identify asbestos without a microscopic examination, so asbestos inspection should be done by qualified people. Most developed Western countries have banned or restricted the use of asbestos severely, but it is still present in older homes and in some old public buildings and even in some schools and hospitals.

Asbestos Removal

Asbestos removal from industrial premises is another matter altogether, and most governments have strict rules on the people who can do such work and, on the methods, used. Asbestos in a home that is undamaged, in good condition and not likely to be interfered with is best left alone. Should a homeowner need to remove asbestos, it is best to get a qualified contractor to do so or to contact their local authority, which will have a list of approved asbestos removal firms available.

Many developed nations have banned the mining and use of asbestos, including the European Union and a handful of other countries, such as Chile, Croatia, Australia, Argentina, and Saudi Arabia. The United States has severely restricted the use of asbestos but has not yet banned it outright. Several countries, especially those that continue to make money from mining asbestos, consistently fight against asbestos bans.