We all know that Asbestos is really very dangerous and from which we must go to great lengths to protect ourselves, especially when working with and around it. What a lot of people don’t know however is why it is dangerous and what the various diseases it causes and contributes towards actually do.
The IARC (International Agency for Research on Cancer) classify Asbestos as a Group 1 Carcinogen which means it is undoubtedly carcinogenic to humans. The types of cancer it causes I’ll come back to later. Cancer however is just one of the ways Asbestos can cause illness and to start with I’ll describe Asbestosis.
Asbestosis is the scarring of lung tissue resulting from inhaling asbestos fibres, the diseases occurs when the body attempts to get rid of the fibres and does so by using two types of cells: one type to consume and attempt to digest the fibres and one type to patch up after it. I say attempt to digest because as no doubt you have heard Asbestos is resistant to pretty much everything, and as a consequence the cell (called a Macrophage if you’re interested) dies before it can digest the fibre and calls for backup. The back up (fibroblasts this time) put connective tissue down to cover up the damage. The problem arises when a lot of Asbestos fibres are inhaled which means a lot of connective tissue (scar tissue) covers the lungs and because it is not specialised like lung tissue it doesn’t work like it either reducing lung functionality. This causes shortness of breath (Dyspnea), discomfort and that is normally as far as it goes… except there have been cases of respiratory failure and Asbestosis greatly increases chances of contracting other malignancies.
Moving swiftly on I’ll talk about the biggest killer, Cancer. Firstly if you are a smoker and happen to be inhaling large quantities of asbestos you are dramatically increasing your chances of getting lung cancer (https://www.atsjournals.org/doi/abs/10.1164/rccm.201302-0257OC#.VEfC6vnF8uE) and secondly Asbestos directly causes a type of cancer called Mesothelioma which affects the protective lining surrounding most of our organs. The overwhelming amount of cases of Mesothelioma occur in the lining surrounding the lungs which is known as the Pleura, although the disease has been known to occur in the lining that surrounds the heart (Pericardium) and the lining surrounding the organs in the abdominal cavity (Peritoneum). The lining is made up of mesothelium cells (hence Mesothelioma) which asbestos fibres can wriggle into and mess with (exactly how it causes the cancer is still in debate but a popular theory suggests that they interfere with the chromosomes during cell division causing cancerous cells), causing cells to mutate and then form into a cancer.
Unfortunately the prognosis for Mesothelioma is often very poor as it is incredibly difficult to treat due to numerous factors and most of the time it is fatal. I could continue going on about the dangers of Asbestos but the word limit looms ominously so instead I’ll say that there is help available for those stricken by Asbestos related disease. And that is preventable for the most part with the correct training and equipment (see top of page if you’re interested), anyway I hope this was an enlightening and I’d like to thank you for reading it in the first place.Published Oct 27, 2014