Why is Asbestos Dangerous?
At present, the number of people in the UK suffering from past asbestos exposure is still increasing and it is estimated to cause 5,000 deaths per year (with around 20 tradesmen dying each week due to past asbestos exposure). In addition, since 2001 at least 305 teaching professionals have died of Mesothelioma, a cancer almost exclusively caused by asbestos. The overall figure is significantly higher than the number of people who die on UK roads.
Asbestos was not fully banned in the UK until 1999, so any building built prior to 2000 may contain asbestos. It is thought that about 90% of school buildings in England contain asbestos, often around pipes and boilers, and in-wall and ceiling tiles.
When asbestos fibres are inhaled they can cause serious diseases which are responsible for around 5000 deaths a year. There are four main diseases caused by asbestos: Mesothelioma (always fatal), Lung Cancer (almost always fatal), Asbestosis (not always fatal, but it can be very debilitating) and diffuse Pleural Thickening (not fatal).
Asbestos fibres are present in the environment in Great Britain so people are exposed to very low levels of fibres. However, a key factor in the risk of developing an asbestos-related disease is the total number of fibres breathed in. Working on or near damaged asbestos-containing materials or breathing in high levels of asbestos fibres, which may be many hundreds of times that of environmental levels can increase your chances of getting an asbestos-related disease.
Serious diseases caused by asbestos:
- Mesothelioma: Mesothelioma is a cancer that affects the lining of the lungs (pleura) and the lining surrounding the lower digestive tract (peritoneum). It is almost exclusively related to asbestos exposure and by the time it is diagnosed, it is almost fatal.
- Asbestos-related lung cancer: Asbestos-related lung cancer is the same as lung cancer caused by smoking and other causes. It is estimated that there is around one lung cancer for every mesothelioma death.
- Asbestosis: Asbestosis is a serious scarring condition of the lung that normally occurs after heavy exposure to asbestos over many years. This condition can cause progressive shortness of breath, and in severe cases, can be fatal.
- Pleural thickening: Pleural thickening is a problem that happens after heavy asbestos exposure. The lining of the lung (pleura) thickens and swells. If this gets worse, the lung itself can be squeezed and can cause shortness of breath and discomfort in the chest.
Where can you find asbestos?
- Cement products
- Textured coatings
- Floor tiles
- Textiles and composites
- Sprayed coatings on ceilings
- Walls and beams/columns
- Asbestos insulating board Lagging
- Loose asbestos in the ceiling or floor cavity.
It is also important to remember that people who smoke, alongside being exposed to asbestos fibres, are at a much greater risk of developing lung cancer. Asbestos-related diseases won’t affect you immediately but later on in life, so there is a need for you to protect yourself now to prevent future asbestos-related diseases from developing.
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