With the recent release of the EPA’s Asbestos Risk Evaluation Part 2, new research & studies have surfaced showing the health risks of asbestos exposure. The chief concern coming from new research comes from a 2020 study showing a link between asbestos exposure and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD).

Part 2 of the Asbestos Risk Evaluation specifically noted increased scrutiny on legacy asbestos and other existing asbestos (with further specifications coming in 2024). This has led many health news and environmental publishers to take another look at asbestos-related health risks.

This article is intended to provide some basic information on health risks due to asbestos exposure, asbestos exposure & COPD, and long-term complications & risks from asbestos exposure.

Asbestos Exposure & Health Risks

All types of asbestos have harmful properties, based on research dating back to the early 20th century when asbestos was connected to lung fibrosis. Lung fibrosis (also known as asbestosis) occurs when microscopic fibers from inhaled asbestos damage the lungs enough to cause permanent damage.

Asbestos exposure has also been linked to a greater risk of developing lung cancer or mesothelioma. Mesothelioma specifically has been linked almost directly to asbestos exposure (almost all cases have been reported with high levels of asbestos exposure). Mesothelioma is an extremely serious condition, with just a 9% chance of living for 5+ years after a diagnosis.

Lung cancer and mesothelioma are the biggest health concerns related to asbestos exposure. However, other serious conditions have been linked to asbestos exposure including:

  • Throat cancer
  • Kidney cancer
  • Stomach cancer
  • Throat cancer
  • Non-malignant lung conditions
  • Pleural effusions

COPD has recently been identified as another potential health concern related to asbestos exposure.

Asbestos Exposure & COPD

A 2020 study funded by the Wellness of Workers Program and several large unions found a definitive increased risk for worsening COPD due to asbestos exposure. While asbestos was not found to directly cause COPD, a link was found between COPD, asbestos exposure, and high risks of developing serious conditions.

Furthermore, asbestos exposure or genetic asbestos exposure (from parents) has been tied to higher risks of developing COPD later in life.

COPD is actually an umbrella term for many conditions that damage the lungs, primarily resulting in restricting airflow. Common symptoms of COPD include:

  • Chronic chest congestion and/or chest tightness
  • Excessive coughing and/or wheezing
  • Excessive mucus production
  • Shortness of Breath

The symptoms of COPD have been tied to many cases of anxiety, depression, sleep-related conditions, and general reductions in quality of life.

COPD-related symptoms, especially respiratory symptoms, have been noted as putting individuals much more at risk for serious conditions related to asbestos exposure.

Preventing Asbestos Exposure

The Asbestos Risk Evaluation Part 2 provided a ton of information on legacy asbestos and how to avoid it. While most asbestos has stopped being imported into the United States, old asbestos materials still contain potentially harmful levels of asbestos. On top of that, existing asbestos has been recycled to use in some modern machinery including manufacturing machines (which have the potential to ‘spread’ asbestos).

Having any building or site you are using or working on properly evaluated for asbestos is the first step. Keeping your family, friends, employees, and yourself safe from potential asbestos exposure is the most important thing you can do when it comes to new properties, buildings, construction, or other job sites.

Evaluating any materials, machinery, or other products you intend to use for potential asbestos exposure can also help. With the recent Johnson & Johnson lawsuits (related to asbestos in baby powder), it’s more important than ever to do the best job you can when it comes to avoiding potential asbestos exposure.

Illinois Environmental Contractors Association Resources

For more information on finding a local contractor to assist with asbestos information, remediation, or removal check the resources below:

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