Asbestos: Understanding the Risks and How to Prevent Them

With excellent heat resistance and an affordable price, asbestos was a popular part of many industrial products in the 20th Century. Now recognised as a carcinogen, asbestos products have been fully banned in the UK since 1999. This doesn’t mean it hasn’t left its legacy on many unfortunate asbestos users though.

What is asbestos?

The name “asbestos” encompasses a group of silicate minerals including Crocidolite (Blue), Amosite (Brown) and Chrysotile (White). It was used in many building materials due to its high heat and chemical resistance. Its excellent thermal insulation was another property that made it attractive. Some products it was previously used in include moulded or performed lagging for the thermal insulation of pipes and boilers, fire-protecting insulation boards and cement.

Why is asbestos dangerous?

Inhalation of the airborne fibre asbestos can emit can cause serious illnesses like asbestosis, lung cancer and mesothelioma.

It can take a long time after exposure for symptoms of these health problems to develop. To be specific, It can take as long as 20 years for mesothelioma to develop and 15-35 years for lung cancer to occur after the inhalation of the harmful fibres.

Products with higher potential fibre release are most likely to cause health problems. Items like sprayed asbestos and asbestos loose packing are particularly high offenders.

What should you do if you’ve been exposed to asbestos?

If you think you may have been exposed to asbestos in the 20th Century, it’s worth a conversation with your doctor to see if you can get regular screening for asbestos-related illnesses.

If you were employed in the fire service, the construction or mining industry or served in the military prior to the ban, there’s a higher chance that you spent time around asbestos. If you’ve been a smoker on top of this, you’ll need to be especially on guard.

If you develop an illness such as lung cancer from asbestos exposure, you may also be able to claim compensation from the government or a past employer. You may find it beneficial to seek legal help so you can get the recompense you deserve to cover the costs. There is usually a time limit of one year from the date of diagnosis to make your claim, so try not to wait too long before acting.

If you were not employed in a setting that worked directly with asbestos but someone you lived with was, you may have come into second-hand contact with asbestos (from handling their work clothes frequently, for example). You should also explore your options with a doctor and be aware that you may be entitled to compensation if you develop an asbestos-caused illness.

Not everyone who has been exposed to asbestos gets ill further down the line. It’s important not to panic. Stay vigilant and informed with sound medical advice.

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