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Firefighters and Asbestos


Health Effects of Asbestos Exposure

When you inhale asbestos fibers, they can get trapped in the lungs and could eventually cause serious diseases depending on the duration and intensity of exposure. While we have already pointed out that developing an asbestos related disease from background exposure is not likely, some of the occupations listed on our Asbestos at Work page have high rates of disease.

Some of the diseases that can be developed as a result of asbestos exposure include:

Mesothelioma – A rare form of cancer that occurs in the thin lining of cells that cover the lung, chest, abdomen, and heart. The disease generally appears 20 years after initial exposure and patient prognosis is poor because it is almost always caught in advanced stages. The vast majority of cases are linked to prior exposure to asbestos but new evidence suggests that exposure to taconite fibers could be a risk factor as well.

The latency period between exposure and the onset of mesothelioma has been a driving factor in school renovation projects. Children are vulnerable to exposure because they tend to be more "hands on" with materials they might encounter. We encourage parents to look at the classrooms and other areas their children may pass through during the day. If you see items in disrepair bring them to the attention of a school administrator. You have a right to know whether your child's school contains asbestos and if it does, how the school is managing the exposure risk.

More information on the symptoms of mesothelioma

Asbestosis – A progressive non-cancerous disease of the lungs caused by asbestos fibers that irritate and scar lung tissue. Over time, the scarring makes it increasingly difficult for the circulatory system to function because oxygen has a difficult time entering the bloodstream. Right now there are no effective treatments for the disease.

Lung Cancer – Lung cancer is responsible for the highest number of deaths caused by asbestos exposure. People who work in many of the occupations we listed are more likely to develop lung cancer than the general public.

Smoking in addition to asbestos exposure may also increase the risk of developing asbestos related diseases.

Next: Frequently Asked Questions About Asbestos