Why is Asbestos Dangerous?

asbestos awareness course

Asbestos awareness is a key area of health and safety – particularly if you’re working on hold buildings or using recycled materials. However, because of the depth required, information about asbestos is not commonly included in most health and safety awareness courses. To become fully trained in asbestos awareness, you will have to take a specific course – such as APT’s UKATA Asbestos Awareness course.  

In this latest blog post, we’ll be answering one of the key questions associated with asbestos awareness – why is it so dangerous? To discuss why asbestos is dangerous, however, you first must understand what asbestos is. 

What is Asbestos? 

Asbestos is a silicate mineral found in North America and Eurasia. On a macro-scale, asbestos resembles a cotton-like material. Under a microscope, though, asbestos has thousands of jagged edges – which can cut into soft tissue when exposed. 

Being near asbestos is not dangerous by itself. However, inhaling asbestos dust can lead to severe health consequences – which we will discuss below. 

Asbestos takes the form of six slightly different minerals: 

  • Chrysotile.
  • Crocidolite.
  • Amosite.
  • Tremolite.
  • Actinolite.
  • Anthophyllite.

These six types of asbestos can be roughly divided into two groups – the Serpentine group and the Amphibole group. 

Serpentine Group 

The Serpentine group has a sheet or layered structure and contains only Chyrosotile. Traditionally, this group was the most commonly used. Serpentine group asbestos was used to manufacture: 

  • Drywall
  • Plaster
  • Vinyl Floor Tiles
  • Roofing tars
  • Transite panels
  • Acoustic ceilings
  • Fireproofing 
  • Fire blankets
  • Stage curtains

And many more. Because of its ubiquity in the building industry and construction sites, you will likely encounter much more Chyrosotile than you will any other kind of asbestos. However, because of the health hazards associated, Chyrosotile is no longer 

The Amphibole Group

Containing every other kind of asbestos, the Amphibole group has been effectively banned since the late 1980s. While it was never as popular a building material as the Serpentine Group, it nonetheless was used to manufacture the following: 

  • Low-density insulation board 
  • Ceiling Tiles 
  • Asbestos cement sheets  
  • Thermal and chemical insulation

What Illnesses Does Asbestos Cause?

Asbestos has been associated with several different illnesses. These include: 

Asbestosis 

Asbestosis is a lung disorder associated with long-term asbestos exposure. It is developed as a result of irritation caused by asbestos spikes digging into the lungs. Symptoms of asbestosis include: 

  • Wheezing 
  • Persistent cough
  • Shortness of breath
  • Extreme tiredness
  • Chest or shoulder pain

In advanced cases, swollen fingertips are another common symptom.

Unfortunately, there’s no cure for asbestosis. However, effective treatments include pulmonary rehabilitation, oxygen therapy, and a prescribed inhaler. 

Pleural Effusions

Also known as ‘water on the lungs,’ pleural effusion is the excess build-up of fluid between the layers of the pleura outside the lungs. Symptoms of Pleural Effusion include: 

  • Chest pain
  • Difficult, laboured breathing
  • Orthopnea 
  • Dry, non-productive cough
  • Shortness of breath

Pleural effusion is usually treated through surgery – a video-assisted thoracoscopic surgery or traditional thoracic surgery. 

Pleural Plaques

Pleural plaques are areas of scaring on the pleura. Unlike pleural effusions, there are no outward signs of pleural plaques, and it is not known to cause serious issues by itself. Nonetheless, it is an indication that a person has had considerable exposure to asbestos – normally somewhere between 20 – 40 years’ worth of exposure. 

Pleuritis 

Pleuritis or pleurisy is a condition where the pleura becomes inflamed as a result of contact with asbestos. This inflammation leads to swelling, causing the two pleura layers to rub against one another. This leads to the following symptoms: 

  • Chest pain
  • Shortness of breath
  • (Occasionally) Cough
  • (Occasionally) Fever

Pleuritis normally goes away on its own after a few days. In the meantime, anti-inflammatory drugs, such as ibuprofen, have demonstrated effectiveness in dealing with the chest pain associated with the condition. 

Diffuse Pleural Thickening

Pleural thickening is the thickening of the pleura as a result of constant irritation. This thickening takes the form of a mass of scar tissue. When that thickening has extended to more than 50% of either the right or left side of the pleura (or 25% of each side) it is diagnosed as diffuse pleural thickening (DPT).

Diffuse pleural thickening is not always serious by itself. However, it can become serious if the thickening starts to limit lung functionality. Symptoms of DPT include: 

  • Chest pain
  • Cough 
  • Difficulty breathing 
  • Difficulty taking a deep breath
  • General fatigue
  • Fever
  • Pain when breathing
  • Respiratory failure

There is no cure for pleural thickening. However, the symptoms are commonly treated via pulmonary therapy or through a series of exercises, strategies and general life changes. 

COPD

COPD or chronic obstructive pulmonary disease is the name for a group of illnesses which cause difficulty breathing – including emphysema and chronic bronchitis. The main symptoms of COPD include: 

  • Breathlessness, particularly when you’re active. 
  • A persistent wet, chesty cough 
  • Frequent chest infections 
  • Persistent wheezing 

COPD is a very serious illness, and you should immediately seek medical attention if you notice any of these symptoms. While there is no outright cure for COPD, a medical professional will usually prescribe medicine and inhalers, pulmonary rehabilitation, or surgery to help treat the symptoms. 

UKATA Asbestos Awareness Courses From APT 

As you can see, asbestos exposure carries a considerable health risk. Because of those risks, the use of asbestos in manufacturing has been banned, and there is an international effort to remove asbestos from existing buildings. APT offers a range of high-quality asbestos awareness training courses designed with advice from the UK asbestos training association.

For more information about our asbestos awareness, site supervisor safety training schemes, or HSA courses in Stoke-On-Trent, contact APT today. 

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Kelly Raboutot

Kelly Raboutot