Asbestos is responsible for over 4000 deaths every year. Younger people, if routinely exposed to asbestos fibres over time, are at greater risk of developing asbestos-related disease than older workers. This is due to the time it takes for the body to develop symptoms after exposure to asbestos. Exposure to asbestos can cause four main diseases:
- mesothelioma (a cancer of the lining of the lungs – it is always fatal and is almost exclusively caused by exposure to asbestos);
- asbestos-related lung cancer (which is almost always fatal);
- asbestosis (a scarring of the lungs which is not always fatal but can be a very debilitating disease, greatly affecting quality of life);
- diffuse pleural thickening (a thickening of the membrane surrounding the lungs which can restrict lung expansion leading to breathlessness).
It can take anywhere between 15 to 60 years for any symptoms to develop after exposure, so these diseases will not affect you immediately but may do later in life. You need to start protecting yourself against any exposure to asbestos now because the effect is cumulative. Visit HSE’s web pages on asbestos for the full picture.