Asbestos is a naturally occurring material composed of minerals made of thin microscopic fibres. Soft and greyish-white in natural form, asbestos if disturbed releases these tiny, unseen fibres into the air.
There are three main types of asbestos which have been commercially used, namely the blue (crocidolite), brown (amosite) and white (chrysotile) varieties.
Why Asbestos Materials Were Used So Prevalently
As far back as the 1800s, asbestos was mined and widely used in the automotive, building, construction, electricity, railway and shipbuilding industries.
The reason asbestos has been so popular is that its’ fibres are resistant to heat, fire, and chemicals, plus they do not conduct electricity – all of this makes it an excellent material for warding off corrosion and as an insulator against fire damage.
Reasons for Banning Asbestos
As mentioned, asbestos materials can release their microscopic fibres into the air. If breathed in by humans and animals alike, the fibres cause lung damage because they remain there and accumulate. Over time, this leads to serious health problems, some of which are even lethal.
While all asbestos is hazardous to the human body, the blue and brown types were found to be the most dangerous, so in 1970 strict regulations were introduced in the UK to regulate the use of these varieties in the workplace. Nevertheless, the import, supply and use of both brown and blue asbestos was not fully banned in the UK until 1985, while white asbestos was only banned in 1999 (apart from a small number of specialist uses).
This means it is highly likely that buildings which were built or refurbished before the year 2000 could still contain harmful asbestos.
Illnesses that Result from Asbestos Exposure
Breathing in large amounts of asbestos dust (fibres) can lead to an inflammatory condition that scars the lungs known as asbestosis, causing a cough and shortness of breath. Eventually the sufferer will find it hard to breathe. A less common symptom and usually associated with more advanced cases of the condition is swollen fingers, called ‘finger clubbing’. In the most extreme cases, asbestosis is fatal.
The tricky thing about it is that in most cases, symptoms do not become apparent until 15 to 30 years after exposure. What’s more, there is no cure to repair asbestosis lung damage.
In addition to smoking, it has been proven that people exposed repeatedly to asbestos are at high risk of developing lung cancer.
Cancer of the mesothelial cells which make up the lining (membrane) that covers the outer surface of body organs (including the lungs, heart and lower digestive tract) is most commonly caused by asbestos exposure.
The scary thing is that unlike asbestosis which only develops after prolonged exposure, breathing in a relatively small amount of asbestos can cause this cancer. Furthermore, it often takes as long as 40 to 60 years to develop, and by the time it is diagnosed it is so far advanced that it is usually fatal within three years.
Around 1,800 deaths are caused by mesothelioma every year in Britain, and due to the huge gap between asbestos exposure and the onset of this cancer, the figure is expected to rise.
The lining or membrane that covers the lungs is known as pleura. Asbestos exposure damages this lining in a number of ways, causing health issues:
Pleural Plaques i.e. changes in the membranes surrounding the lungs;
Pleural Effusions i.e. abnormal collections of fluid between the lungs and the inside wall of the chest.
In total, it is estimated that the inhalation of asbestos fibres is responsible for around 4,500 deaths per year in the UK, and what makes it tricky is that the related health problems (from mild to fatal) can take many years to develop. Nevertheless, once diagnosed you are absolutely entitled to compensation, ranging from a weekly benefit or lump sums to cover the suffering caused to you and your family. Please feel free to speak to our experienced specialists about your compensation options and the pay-out sums we can achieve for you.