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Why is asbestos so dangerous to humans?

Asbestos is a naturally occurring fibre that was commonly used in the construction industry until the late 1990s. It was hugely popular because of its resistant properties but has since come under scrutiny due to the health risks associated with heavy exposure. But why is asbestos so dangerous?

Since 1999, the use of asbestos has been banned completely in the UK to protect the health of workers in the building trade, although for many the damage is done. This is because when asbestos containing materials are damaged or disturbed, microscopically thin fibres are released and stay airborne for days at a time. When these are inhaled, they can travel deep into the lungs and lung tissue and go on to cause serious diseases.

Although symptoms will not present themselves for a long time, they are serious enough to cause the deaths of approximately 20 tradesmen per week who were regularly exposed to asbestos as part of their work. The risks of asbestos are therefore still valid and must be taken seriously because it could still be present in buildings that were constructed or refurbished before the year 2000.

How long does it take to feel unwell after asbestos exposure?

Asbestos is primarily linked to diseases that affect the lungs. The period between breathing in the asbestos fibres and symptoms developing is between 10 and 40 years, so people won’t feel affected immediately. By the time the disease is diagnosed however, it’s usually too advanced to treat, meaning the only real cure is prevention. The diseases associated with asbestos exposure include the following:


Asbestosis normally occurs after heavily asbestos exposure that has taken place over many years causing the lungs to become scarred and inflamed. Symptoms include chest tightness and progressive shortness of breath, with some cases proving to be fatal.


Mesothelioma is a type of cancer that is almost exclusively related to asbestos exposure and affects the lining of the lungs and chest wall. Symptoms typically come on slowly and include a swollen abdomen, chest wall pain and shortness of breath. Unfortunately, mesothelioma is nearly always fatal, especially if asbestos exposure has been high.

Pleural thickening

Pleural thickening is a condition that develops when scar tissue thickens the lining of the lungs, making it swell. When this happens, the lungs can’t expand as far as they should, which can cause discomfort in the chest along with shortness of breath.

Asbestos-related lung cancer

Although smoking accounts for most cases of lung cancer, asbestos exposure is accountable in some instances and the prognosis tends to be poor. In fact, of all the conditions causes by exposure to asbestos, asbestos-related lung cancer is responsible for the highest number of deaths.

Is all asbestos dangerous?

Products that contain just 1% asbestos are officially considered to be ‘asbestos containing,’ so no amount is considered to be safe. Not everyone who is exposed to asbestos will suffer the onset of an asbestos related illness, but they’re more likely to be diagnosed with one. The more asbestos an individual is exposed to, the higher their risk of illness will be; although other factors to bear in mind include the route of exposure (such as breathing or eating) and what other chemicals the individual has come into contact with. Unlike some hazardous particles, asbestos fibres won’t make you cough or sneeze because they’re too small to feel or taste. This means that asbestos should only be removed from a building by trained individuals who know how to handle it safely and dispose of it correctly.

If you’d like more information about asbestos removal services or would like to find out about asbestos removal, please fill out the contact form on our website, email info@chirmarn.co.uk or phone Chirmarn Asbestos Specialists at 0191 414 8000.