Well, as the health of workers deteriorated the link between asbestos exposure and ill health was made, but due to the latency period of asbestos related illnesses damage had already been done.
There are various pathways that asbestos can take to enter our bodies, these are inhalation, ingestion and skin contact.
Asbestos related diseases are asbestosis, lung cancer and mesothelioma.
- Asbestosis has a latency period which is typically 10-12 year, though symptoms can appear much sooner. This disease leads to a hardening (fibrosis) of healthy lung tissue which ultimately leads to reduced lung function. Although it can on occasion be slowed down if diagnosed early, ultimately it is incurable and irreversible.
- Lung cancer is most commonly associated with smoking but asbestos is also a reason that some people develop this disease. In fact, asbestos and smoking have a synergistic effect, so those people who smoked and had exposure to asbestos significantly increased the risk of contracting lung cancer by a factor of 50! The latency period for lung cancer is typically 10-20 years. Other cancers can also be attributed to asbestos ingestion in some cases, such as cancer in parts of the digestive system and larynx.
- Although there are different causes of mesothelioma, asbestos is the primary one. It is caused by mutated cells forming a large tumour within the lining of the lungs (sometimes it can result in lots of smaller tumours). As the tumour grows it can cause pain within the chest, it can also lead to a build up of fluid which can effectively squash your lungs making it difficult to breathe and causing breathlessness which is one of the main symptoms. The latency period for mesothelioma can be up to 25-50 years!
Due to these long latency periods we have seen increases in cases of asbestos related diseases, due to historical exposures. The main historical exposures were due to mining, manufacture and installation of asbestos and asbestos containing materials. There were also other cases of asbestos exposure which were none direct and examples of this were people in the home who washed the workers clothes and children who sat on their parent’s knee when they returned home from work.
Since import and use was totally banned in the UK in 1999 you may think that exposure would reduce, it has in terms of those historical workers, but we now have a different sector of people exposed in current times. Modern day exposure could occur to asbestos removal workers, workers in construction and maintenance and people working on or in buildings constructed (or refurbished) up to the year 2000.
Let us not forget the people in different countries who have not yet banned asbestos and continue to mine, build and use the material for a variety of reasons. Unfortunately worldwide the total number of deaths will continue to rise until, through the hard work of ADAO and other courageous campaigners, we achieve a total worldwide Asbestos ban to protect future generations to come.