What is asbestos poisoning and are you at risk?

Asbestos Poisoning

The carcinogenic nature of asbestos, and the fact it was once a mainstay material used extensively in industry, means asbestos poisoning is still a threat to health even though the substance was banned in the UK in 1999.

Figures published by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) show that in 2016, 2,595 people died from mesothelioma, an aggressive form of lung cancer attributed principally to asbestos exposure.¹

Although asbestos can be encased in an outer material, such as concrete, if that material degrades, asbestos poisoning may easily occur if the microscopic fibres are inhaled or ingested.

Asbestos poisoning and a considerable time-lag

A typical feature of asbestos exposure is the timescale involved before any symptoms are felt. A time lag of forty or fifty years is not uncommon, and in many cases asbestos workers only begin to experience the symptoms well into their retirement years.

This legacy of disease and ill health is predicted to slow at the end of this decade but the threat remains, and it isn’t only long-term exposure to asbestos that can poison the system. One-off, tragic events such as 9/11 or the Grenfell Tower fire can also lead to widespread asbestos poisoning among communities.

Grenfell Tower is reported to have contained large amounts of asbestos, with survivors of the fire potentially being exposed to considerable volumes of toxic fumes as they escaped. Fire fighters at the scene may also have been poisoned by asbestos as they dealt with the tragic events unfolding that night.

What are some of the symptoms of asbestos poisoning?

Chronic cough

When you inhale asbestos fibres and dust the lung tissue becomes scarred over a period of many years, often several decades. You may feel no ill effects for a long time but then develop a persistent dry cough that doesn’t go away with the ‘standard’ medicines and treatments.

Fatigue

Feeling extreme tiredness can be a sign of asbestos poisoning, particularly when accompanied by other symptoms such as wheezing, persistent coughing, and reduced lung function.

Shortness of breath

Often one of the initial symptoms felt by those suffering from asbestos poisoning, shortness of breath can be caused by scar tissue on the lungs, creating difficulty in breathing and causing the chest to feel heavy or restricted.

Wheezing

If you feel pain when you take a deep breath, or there is a ‘whistling’ or wheezing sound in your chest when you breathe in and out, it could be a sign of asbestos poisoning particularly if you’re not a smoker.

Clubbed fingertips

Clubbed or swollen fingertips, where the fingernails have become more curved than usual and the tips of the fingers abnormally large, has been associated with asbestosis and mesothelioma.²

If you would like to find out more about asbestos poisoning or any other aspect of dealing with asbestos whether in a commercial, industrial, or residential setting, please contact one of our highly experienced consultants. Acorn Asbestos offers a wide-range of asbestos services including asbestos surveys, asbestos testing, and asbestos removal.

Neil Munro

I work in a dual role at Acorn Analytical Services focused primarily on growing and leading the business from our Northampton office base. My focus is on overseeing all sales, marketing and financial activities from Northampton. I assist clients with high-level asbestos management strategies and training. Together with Ian Stone I host our weekly podcast – Asbestos Knowledge Empire and I'm Co-author of Asbestos The Dark Arts and Fear and Loathing of Health and Safety.

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