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How to Deal with Asbestos Exposure (and How to Avoid it)

For more than 60 years, asbestos has been a known human carcinogen. Mesothelioma and lung cancer are the primary cancers that develop after exposure to asbestos. Some studies have also noticed an increased rate of breast cancer in women who have been exposed to asbestos. Scientists are still working to determine if asbestos truly does increase a woman’s risk for breast cancer, and if so, how it contributes to the illness. However, because of the numerous other illnesses that are triggered by exposure, asbestos fibers and any products that contain them should still be avoided at all costs. Unfortunately, the World Health Organization estimates that no fewer than 125 million people worldwide were exposed to asbestos at work before 2005. Countless others were exposed through a secondhand route or an environmental source. Although men made up the majority of the blue-collar workforce that was at the highest risk for occupational asbestos exposure, women were more likely to experience secondhand exposure. When their spouse brought home fibers on their work clothes, the women often inhaled the fibers when doing laundry. As with the other types of asbestos exposure, this led to a number of cases of asbestos-related cancers. With indisputable evidence about asbestos’ negative health effects, why has asbestos exposure been such a frequent occurrence? Simply put, asbestos was inexpensive and readily available in an age where industrial expansion was at an all-time high. Manufacturers used it in thousands of materials – including insulation, tiles and adhesives – until regulations were enacted in the 1980s. However, no outright ban on asbestos exists in the United States. Until it does, there will always be a risk of asbestos-related diseases.

How can I Avoid Asbestos Exposure?

Overall, awareness is the best safeguard against asbestos exposure. To keep yourself and your family safe, consider these following tips: Remember that most buildings constructed before the 1980s will contain asbestos. After this point, asbestos levels used in home construction products greatly decreased. Learn what specific areas in your house are most likely to contain asbestos. Attics and garages are two frequently contaminated areas, but asbestos products can be anywhere. If you know that specific items in your home (such as Zonolite insulation) contain asbestos, contact an abatement company to discuss safe removal or remedial methods. Avoid handling cracked, broken or otherwise disturbed construction materials. Do not try to perform any asbestos removal on your own. Before beginning any construction projects in your home, call an asbestos sampling agency to ensure your renovations will not release any asbestos into the air.If you work in an industry where asbestos is still a threat, do not handle any asbestos materials without appropriate protective gear. If your job does place you in danger of asbestos exposure, complete any required asbestos licensure training before actively handling the materials.

What Should I do if I was Exposed to Asbestos?

Luckily, not everybody who is exposed to asbestos will develop an asbestos-related disease. The length and levels of exposure – as well as genetics – have a lot to do with a person’s risk of illness. Asbestos-related diseases can take 20 to 50 years to develop. Because of this latency period, people who have been exposed may not actually note any health effects for decades after they first came into contact with asbestos. If you have been exposed to asbestos at any time in your past, mention the dates, length and extent of exposure to your general practitioner, who can place a note in their medical file. You should also consider signing up for asbestos-related disease screenings. These regularly scheduled tests can help exposed individuals keep tabs on their health and catch any problems before they progress to a hard-to-treat stage. If you were to develop an asbestos-related illness, diagnosing it in its earliest stages would give you the best chances at successful treatment. Lastly, anyone who has a known history of asbestos exposure should monitor their own health for symptoms that may be indicative of mesothelioma or asbestosis. These symptoms include coughing, difficulty breathing, chest pain and fatigue that gets worse with physical exertion. Any of these symptoms should be reported to a doctor who specializes in diagnosing asbestos-related diseases. Author bio: Faith Franz is a writer for the The Mesothelioma Center at She combines her interests in whole-body health and medical research to educate the mesothelioma community about the newest developments in cancer care. Photo by By Lisa M. Collins via    



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