Working with asbestos, even for a very short amount of time, can lead to several chronic and fatal medical conditions that can be considered asbestos poisoning diseases. It is possible to develop these conditions without coming in direct contact with asbestos.
The microscopic fibrous crystals of asbestos are released into the air any time the mineral is handled, including the handling of any and all products that contain asbestos as a component.
The crystals are too small to see. They’re so light they become easily airborne and are easily breathed in through the nose and mouth, only to become lodged forever in the lungs. The body’s immune system cannot break down these fibers.
Asbestos poisoning begins slowly and without symptoms. The fibers become lodged in the lungs, where the immune system becomes actively involved in trying to digest these foreign particles. Since the asbestos crystals are indestructible, connective (scar) tissue builds up around them.
Once enough scar tissue accumulates, the effects of asbestos poisoning begin to show. The first symptoms may appear as soon as five years after exposure but 20 to 30 years is more common.
The scarring leads to thicker, less elastic lungs, which become less efficient transferring oxygen into the bloodstream and taking carbon dioxide out of it. Shortness of breath with an absence of coughing is one of the first symptoms of asbestos poisoning.
Once asbestos poisoning has advanced, other organs begin to weaken from the lack of oxygen. The heart is especially vulnerable.
Asbestosis, another name for asbestos poisoning, is only one fatal disease caused by exposure to asbestos. Certain lung cancers and mesothelioma (cancer of the lining surrounding the chest and abdominal cavities and the heart) are also directly linked to asbestos exposure.
There is no cure for asbestos poisoning in any of its forms. Oxygen and physical therapy for the respiratory system help reduce pain and discomfort. All forms of asbestos poisoning are fatal.
Asbestos crystals are so lightweight they can travel great distances once airborne. Exposure can come indirectly, as from working downwind of asbestos handling or through ventilations systems where asbestos products are manufactured, installed, repaired, or handled in any way.