Saturday, November 14, 2009

Asbestos exposure

Asbestos is an incredibly deadly substance; major exposure to asbestos leads to diseases such asbestosis, lung cancer, and mesothelioma, often with fatal effects. Asbestos was one of the most common industrial materials put to use in the twentieth century.
The most common way for asbestos fibres to enter the body is through breathing. In fact, asbestos containing material is not generally considered to be harmful unless it is releasing dust or fibres into the air where they can be inhaled or ingested. Many of the fibres will become trapped in the mucous membranes of the nose and throat where they can then be removed, but some may pass deep into the lungs or, if swallowed, into the digestive tract. Once they are trapped in the body, the fibres can cause health problems.
It is not possible to completely avoid asbestos exposure. This is because asbestos is a naturally-occurring mineral product; it is part of the rocks that make up our planet, and as those rocks erode due to weather, fibers are released into the atmosphere. Asbestos fibers float in the air and water quite naturally, even without any human intervention or industrial development. It is estimated that a cubic meter of outdoor air (about what an adult would breathe in an hour) contains ten asbestos fibers. And – despite the deadliness of asbestos in general – this level of exposure does not present any significant health risk.

Asbestos exposure has two main pathways:

The first pathway is inhalation – drawing the fibers into the lungs because the fibers are in the air.

The second pathway is ingestion, swallowing asbestos fibers that have contaminated food or water. Asbestos fibers are not soluble in water, and so when asbestos washes into a water source by erosion from nearby rocks, runoff from mines, or asbestos-containing pipes or filters, the fibers can be absorbed by people who drink the water.

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