Because of my expertise in asbestos, I am often asked, “How much asbestos exposure is safe?”
The short answer is none. No amount of asbestos exposure is considered safe.
Not everyone who is exposed to asbestos gets an asbestos-related disease. Similarly not everyone who smokes cigarettes gets lung cancer or emphysema. People sometimes say, “Oh my Aunt Mary or Uncle Joe smoked two packs a day and lived to a hundred.” That very well may be but the odds are highly against it. Are you willing to take that chance and risk your life that you are one of the very few not vulnerable? I hope not.
Although asbestos exposure does not guarantee that you will get sick, anyone exposed to asbestos has a higher risk of developing an asbestos-related disease. These include asbestosis, lung cancer and mesothelioma – all require very extensive medical treatment and are unlikely to be cured.
Even very small amounts of asbestos can cause mesothelioma, a relatively rare cancer of the thin membranes that line the chest and abdomen. Although rare, mesothelioma is the most common form of cancer associated with asbestos exposure, according to the National Cancer Institute. We have had many cases of family members developing mesothelioma from asbestos dust a worker in the family unknowingly brought home on his or her clothes.
Unfortunately, you can’t tell when asbestos is in the air and damaging your lungs. Asbestos does not make you cough or sneeze. It will not make your skin or throat itch. Asbestos fibers get into the air when asbestos materials are damaged, disturbed or handled unsafely. When asbestos is crushed, it does not make ordinary dust. It breaks into microscopic fibers that are too small to see or feel.
Asbestos fibers are so small and light that they can stay airborne days after they were released into the environment. While these particles are airborne, anyone could unknowingly inhale them. Because the fibers are so tiny, they can travel deep into the lungs where they can remain for years without you knowing they’re there.
All asbestos diseases have a latency period – a gap between the time you breathe in asbestos and when you actually start to feel sick. It may take 10 to 40 years after asbestos exposure, for you to feel symptoms of asbestos-related disease.
If you think you have been exposed to asbestos, see your doctor about getting a chest x-ray or CAT scan. The x-ray cannot detect the asbestos fibers themselves, but can detect early signs of lung disease caused by asbestos. And remember, there is no safe amount of asbestos exposure.