It’s one thing to understand that asbestos – a hazardous material commonly found in construction materials of buildings made in the late 1980s and older – causes major illnesses, including asbestosis, lung cancer, and mesothelioma, and another to understand how it happens. This article is designed to help shed light on the exact process, from how the asbestos becomes airborne to the effects on your body, to help underline the dangers of asbestos exposure.
1. Asbestos Get into the Air
Asbestos is a type of silicate mineral composed of thousands of small strands of glass-like fibers. These fibers were incorporated into many building and insulation materials through the late 1980s. When these materials are damaged or disturbed, these fibers break off and become airborne. Common causes for this to occur is the decay of the material or violently released during renovation, demolition, or destruction of a building.
2. Asbestos Enters into Your Body
Asbestos fibers are small. While they vary according to the type of asbestos and natural variation, they average being no bigger than 3 micrometers (also known as microns) in diameter. For reference, a human hair is about 50 micrometers across. When airborne, they can easily enter the upper respiratory system, causing inflammation of the nose and throat as they travel into the lungs.
3. Your Lungs Interact with Asbestos Fibers
When asbestos fibers enter the lungs, they embed themselves in the tissue of the walls. These small, needle-like fibers will stay in the lungs – they are made of silicate and will not dissolve and once embedded they will not leave the lungs. The fiber can continue to work their way into the lungs, piercing the outer membrane of the lungs (the pleura) and into the chest lining (the mesothelium).
4. Types of Damage and Complications
Over time, inhaling asbestos and it interacting with your body, damage can be caused to your lung tissue in three major ways:
- Asbestosis: Fibers can damage the ability for the lungs to expand as asbestos scars the lungs and pleura. Once scarred, the pleura cannot expand as far and leads to shortness of breath and other symptoms.
- Lung Cancer: Asbestos fibers are naturally carcinogenic. As the fibers stay in the lungs, they short-term trigger the immune system, but long term exposure can damage the cells, leading to lung cancer.
- Mesothelioma: When asbestos fibers pierce the outer layer of the lungs, they can pierce the outer lining of the lungs and chest, called the mesothelium, leading to a very aggressive form of cancer known as mesothelioma.
It’s important to understand the risk of asbestos exposure to yourself and others in your building. If your building was constructed before 1990, it might contain asbestos. Get your building inspected and asbestos removed. If you’re in Massachusetts or New Hampshire, Fiber Control, Inc. can help. Contact us today to get started.