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Asbestos Contamination

Instructor: Artem Cheprasov

Artem has a doctor of veterinary medicine degree.

There may be something in your home that can cause a lot of lung damage and a rare kind of cancer. Do you know what this is? Find out asbestos and how it may harm your health.

Dangerous Substances

Do you live in a very old home, one built sometimes between 1930 and 1950? If you do, then you may want to have your home tested for a potentially dangerous substance. This is doubly true if the home is beginning to fall into disrepair as this substance may be released into the air as a contaminant and severely damage your lungs as you breathe it in.

What is this substance? I'm talking about asbestos, and you're about to find out more about it and what health effects it may have.

What Is Asbestos?

The substance that may be found in old homes, especially in insulation, is called asbestos. Asbestos is a term that refers to a group of heat-resistant fibrous silicates. Basically, they're minerals that are made up of fine fiber-like (fibrous) strands.

At one point in time, asbestos was seen as a miracle compound and was used in the construction of homes in the U.S. For example, asbestos was used for insulation, and still is in some parts of the world. It was also used in some paints, roofing, piping, and more. If you have a gas fireplace that has fake ashes and embers, they may contain asbestos. Asbestos can also be found in some occupation settings and sometimes is a waste product for some manufacturing operations.

The problem is that if any of those substances containing asbestos are damaged over time and in the workplace, if the asbestos is released into the air, the asbestos fibers are spread into the air and thus contaminate it. That's when it becomes a big problem. The inhalation of asbestos can lead to many serious health effects over time.

Note the smooth, hair-like, fibers of asbestos in this image.
Asbestos

Asbestosis

Actually, the threat of asbestos is so real that an entire disorder is named after it. It's appropriately called asbestosis. Prolonged exposure (usually over 10 years), especially in large quantities, to asbestos will result in the inhalation of many asbestos fibers into the breathing passages of our lungs. Here, these fibers fill, irritate, inflame, and then scar the lungs. With time, this causes the lungs to stiffen. That's bad! You want your lungs to be like a nice fresh balloon, easily able to fill up with air and pop back into shape. If your lungs are stiff like an old balloon, it's hard to fill those guys with air.

Asbestosis will cause various signs and symptoms, depending on how far along the problem is:

  • Dyspnea, shortness of breath or difficulty breathing. At first this will occur when a person is exercising. As the disease gets worse, a person will have trouble breathing even when sitting at rest.
  • A dry cough initially but a bloody cough may occur as the disorder and its complications, like respiratory infections, set in.
  • Chest pain
  • A hoarse voice
  • Difficulty sleeping
  • Clubbing of the fingertips. This means the fingertips will become wider and thicker than normal
  • A collapsed lung
  • Lung cancer
  • Mesothelioma, a type of rare cancer that is primarily believed to be caused by exposure to asbestos
  • Heart failure

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