How Asbestos Enters and Affects the Body

Asbestos is a naturally-occurring, hazardous material comprised of six different fibrous minerals. These raw materials are extremely thin (1,200 times smaller than a strand of human hair) and separable, without any odor or taste. Asbestos is popular because of its extreme resistance to fire, heat, and chemical and biological degradation. These factors help explain the widespread mining and manufacturing of asbestos-containing materials, such as construction materials, friction products, and heat-resistance fabrics. Those who currently work or used to work with asbestos products, especially before the mid-1970s, were regularly exposed to asbestos and may develop serious illnesses.

Asbestos attorneys at Pintas & Mullins Law Firm understand that asbestos exposure issues are complex. Given that asbestos is invisible to the naked eye, odorless, and tasteless, it may be difficult to distinguish when and where you may have been exposed. When asbestos is airborne, its fibers suspend for an extended period of time, and can be carried away by wind or water currants. Asbestos may become airborne through natural erosion of deposits or the damaging of manufactured products.

The concentration of asbestos fibers indoors depends on whether asbestos was used for insulation, ceiling or floor tiles, or other purposes. It also depends on whether these asbestos-containing materials are in good condition or are deteriorated and easily crumbled. People who work with asbestos-containing products (miners, insulation workers, asbestos abatement workers, and automobile brake mechanics) without proper protection are likely exposed to much higher levels of asbestos fibers in the air.

Additionally, custodial and maintenance workers that make repairs or installations in buildings with asbestos-containing materials may be exposed to higher levels of asbestos. Since vermiculite and talc may contain asbestos, the general population may be exposed to asbestos when using these products.

You can also be exposed by drinking asbestos fibers that are present in water. Though asbestos does not dissolve in water, fibers can enter by being eroded from natural deposits, from asbestos-containing cement pipes used to carry drinking water, or from filtering through asbestos-containing filters. Most drinking water supplies in the United States have concentrations of less than 1 million fibers per liter (MFL), even in areas with asbestos deposits or with asbestos-cement water supply pipes. However, in some locations, water samples may contain 10-300 million fibers per liter or even higher.

If you breathe asbestos fibers into your lungs, some of the fibers will be deposited in the air passages and on the lung cells. Most fibers are removed from your lungs by being carried away or coughed up in a layer of mucus to the throat, where they are swallowed into the stomach. This usually takes place within a few hours. Fibers that are deposited in the deepest parts of the lung are removed more slowly. Some fibers may move through your lungs and can remain in place for many years and may never be removed from your body.

If you swallow asbestos fibers, nearly all of the fibers pass along your intestines within a few days and are excreted. A small number of fibers may penetrate into cells that line your stomach or intestines, and a few penetrate all the way through and enter your blood. Some of these become trapped in other tissues, and some are removed in your urine.

Information on the health effects of asbestos comes mostly from studies of people who have been exposed to levels of asbestos fibers in workplace air. Workers who repeatedly breathe in asbestos fibers with lengths greater than or equal to 5 µm may develop a slow buildup of scar-like tissue in the lungs and in the membrane that surrounds the lungs. This scar-like tissue does not expand and contract like normal lung tissue and breathing becomes difficult. Blood flow to the lung may also be decreased, and this causes the heart to enlarge. This disease is called asbestosis. People with asbestosis have shortness of breath, often accompanied by a cough. This is a serious disease and can eventually lead to disability or death in people exposed to high amounts of asbestos over a long period. However, asbestosis is not usually of concern to people exposed to low levels of asbestos. Changes in the membrane surrounding the lung, called pleural plaques, are quite common in people occupationally exposed to asbestos and are sometimes found in people living in areas with high environmental levels of asbestos.

Our asbestos attorneys obtain maximum compensation for our clients. If you or a family member is suffering from an asbestos-related disease, contact an attorney today to start the legal process.

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