Asbestos is a naturally occurring mineral, which is a known carcinogen. Long, thin fibrous crystals are contained in this fibre. The fibre may be mixed with other substances to resist heat, electricity and chemical damage. Asbestos was used in many building structures throughout the 1900s. Of all buildings created before 1978, up to 80 per cent contained asbestos within the design.
Firefighters often have the most exposure to burning asbestos. The asbestos becomes exposed due to the fire itself. When burning, the fibres can be released into the air during the initial stages of extinguishing a fire. The fibres can be inhaled into the lungs, once exposed in the air and can become lodged in tiny sacs surrounding the internal organs. At that point, the victim is not able to breath or cough them out. In a real emergency, a firefighter must take off his protective gear; therefore becoming exposed to the asbestos. The second stages of extinguishing a fire still may contain high levels of asbestos.
There are three different types of lung disease that asbestos can cause: asbestosis, disease of the lining of the lung, and lung cancer. Asbestosis is a process of widespread scarring of the lungs. Disease of the lining of the lung, also called the pleura, is the result of hardening or inflammation, and thickening of the lining tissue. This can have many symptoms and signs. Lung cancer can be either occur within the internal lining or the outer lining of the lungs. The delay between exposure to the asbestos and the development of cancer is generally anywhere from 20 years or more.
Exposure and Other Health Problems
Most commonly people are exposed to asbestos in mines, mills or factories. Some other places that people are generally exposed include during automotive repair, boiler-making, construction, pipe-fitting, asbestos containing clothing or firefighting. The number of deaths to asbestos has increased over the past two decades; however, it is believed to have plateaued due to increased knowledge of the risks. Asbestos has also been linked to other types of cancer and pulmonary fibrosis.