Health Impacts of Asbestos Exposure: Why Asbestos Removal is Important

Health Impacts of Asbestos Exposure: Why Asbestos Removal is Important

Asbestos has been widely used in building and insulation materials for decades because it is heat resistant, strong, and affordable. However, we now know that exposure to asbestos fibers is dangerous as it can lead to serious health problems. This article delves into the health impacts of asbestos exposure and underscores why asbestos removal is so important.  Asbestos removal is

important, particularly in homes and buildings constructed before the mid-1990s.  It is noted that there is no safe level of asbestos exposure as asbestos is a known carcinogenic.


Understanding Asbestos

Asbestos is a naturally occurring fibrous mineral. Its robust, heat-resistant properties have made it a popular building material in the construction industry for many decades. Asbestos use peaked in New Zealand and many other countries between the 1940s and the mid-1980s. If your home or commercial space was built during this period, it may contain asbestos.

The Dangers of Asbestos Exposure

Asbestos is not harmful when it is intact and undisturbed. The danger arises when asbestos-containing materials are damaged or disturbed, causing tiny asbestos fibers to become airborne. When inhaled or ingested, these fibers can become trapped in the lungs.  These fibers remain in the lungs for a long time, leading to inflammation, scarring, and, eventually, serious health problems, including significant chronic conditions.

Health Conditions Linked to Asbestos Exposure

Prolonged asbestos exposure can lead to several severe, often fatal, health conditions. These include:

Asbestosis: Asbestosis is a chronic lung disease caused by inhaling asbestos fibers. Over time, these fibers cause lung tissue scarring, leading to shortness of breath, coughing, and permanent lung damage. Asbestosis often progresses slowly, and its symptoms may not appear until many years following asbestos exposure.

Mesothelioma: Mesothelioma is a rare and aggressive form of cancer that primarily affects the lining of the lungs and abdomen. It is almost exclusively linked to asbestos exposure and has a poor prognosis.

Lung Cancer: Asbestos exposure also significantly increases the risk of developing lung cancer, especially among smokers. Symptoms include persistent coughing, chest pain, hoarseness, and weight loss.

Other Health Problems: Other health issues linked to asbestos exposure include pleural thickening (where the lining of the lungs thickens and swells) and pleural plaques (areas of thick, hardened tissue around the lungs and diaphragm).

Why Asbestos Removal is Important

Asbestos removal is critical to maintaining a safe living or working environment. While undamaged asbestos may not immediately pose a risk, it becomes hazardous when disturbed. Asbestos is often disturbed during renovations, refurbishment, or demolition work.

However, asbestos removal should always be done by licensed professionals. Incorrect removal can result in the uncontrolled release of asbestos fibers into the air, increasing the risk of exposure.

The Asbestos Removal Process

Asbestos removal must be conducted with great care and precision. In New Zealand, the law stipulates that only licensed asbestos removalists may remove high-risk asbestos removal tasks. This includes friable and bonded asbestos of more than ten sqm.

A licensed asbestos removalist is a competent person who has acquired the necessary removal skills through training and industry experience.  The process for removal works entails wearing specific personal protective equipment (PPE), properly sealing off the affected area to prevent fiber dispersion, and using specialised equipment to safely remove and dispose of the asbestos-containing materials.  All asbestos is disposed of appropriately by the legal requirements.

Final Thoughts

The health impacts of asbestos exposure are profound and often life-altering. As a result, asbestos removal is essential for homeowners and property managers. While the presence of asbestos in a building doesn’t always pose an immediate threat, it’s crucial to understand the risks involved and to take appropriate action when necessary; prioritising professional asbestos removal is essential to ensure the safety of all occupants.

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