What is Asbestos?
Asbestos has been used since prehistoric times, for example, as lamp wicks for the vestal virgins lamps and for funeral shrouds. It is reported that the Emperor Charlemagne had a blue table cloth which was cleaned by throwing it on to the fire to burn off the food spilt on it.
The real hazards to health were first recognised in 1931, when the first case of lung scarring, or fibrosis due to asbestos fibres (Asbestosis) was identified at Charing Cross Hospital. Since that time several other diseases such as Mesothelioma and lung cancer have been identified as being associated with exposure to Asbestos.
This is a condition in which the lung becomes scarred, or fibrosed, as a result of prolonged inhalation of Asbestos Fibres. The part of the lung that is damaged is at the far end of the smallest bronchial tubes, the place where the lungs transfer oxygen into the blood stream. Only the finest fibres are able to reach this part of the lung, having passed through airways of less than 1mm in diameter.
Asbestosis only occurs in people with prolonged exposure. It is dose related; i.e. persons exposed to high concentrations. During the period that Asbestos was being used in industry this would include ship builders and asbestos laggers, however more recently it has been associated with persons who were or are involved with the majority of the building trades (plumbing, carpentry, builders, etc.).
The first evidence is shortness of breath. At that time, the chest x-ray will show irregular shadows at the bottom of the lungs and doctors will be able to detect rounding of the ends of the fingers and crackling noises through the stethoscope at the lung bases. Progress of the disease is slow, although evidence suggests that if exposure is stopped the progress of the disease will also stop progressing, especially if detected at an early stage.
Due to the latency period of 10-50 years Asbestosis often appears for the first time after the person has left the industry in which they were exposed.