The best advice to anybody who finds he or she has been exposed to asbestos is first, to remain calm.
The next step is to investigate and decide on a plan of action. The points here will help people who find themselves in this situation.
There are steps that can be taken to mitigate the effects of any level of exposure to asbestos.
The chance of any New Zealander becoming exposed to asbestos will remain for the next century or more because of the volume of asbestos materials which exist in the country’s buildings and civil construction networks.
Much of this asbestos is safely contained within solid building materials and only becomes dangerous to human or animal health when it is disturbed in some way, and microscopic asbestos fibres are released into the atmosphere. At that point, the fibres can be inhaled and the result can be declining health and death many years after that moment of inhalation.
The New Zealand Ministry of Health has introduced another stage of regulations to keep people as safe as possible; from April 2018, all non residential building owners must have a long term “asbestos management plan.” This is a national effort to give people in any place, protection from asbestos inhalation.
But what are the chances that some people will still become exposed? Right now, the New Zealand annual fatality rate from asbestos-related illness, is about 170 people a year. New regulations are dedicated to reducing this and if possible, down to zero fatalities.
So what are the chances of inhaling asbestos fibres in any location?
Because asbestos fibres are very light and because of their shape they can float in the air for long periods of time. It can take between 48 and 72 hours (2-3 full days), for asbestos fibres to fall in a still room. In a room with air currents, these fibres may stay in the air much longer.
There is no "safe" level of asbestos exposure.
So any exposure situation, no matter how short or fleeting, is worth full attention to ensure there has been no intake of fibres into the body.
Asbestos is so microscopic that there is no indication that it is in the air or when it enters the lungs. It is too small to see, feel or taste.
There is evidence from around the world which suggests that illness eventuates more from longer term exposure and not so much from small one-off events. But natural self preservation instincts encourage most people to get themselves checked out even in very short incidents of exposure.
Illnesses related to asbestos exposure can take a long time to develop. The time between first exposure to asbestos and diagnosis of “mesothelioma” is usually between 20 and 50 years.
Unfortunately, the risk of mesothelioma does not go down over time after the exposure to asbestos stops. The risk appears to be lifelong.
The chest x-ray is currently the most common tool used to detect asbestos-related diseases.
Although chest x-rays cannot detect asbestos fibres in the lungs, they can help identify any early signs of lung disease resulting from asbestos exposure.
A bronchoscopy is a less invasive test than a biopsy and detects asbestos fibres in material that is rinsed out of the lungs . It is important to note that these procedures cannot determine how much asbestos an individual may have been exposed to or whether disease will develop.
Asbestos fibres can also be detected in urine, mucus, and faeces, but these tests are not reliable for determining how much asbestos may be in an individual’s lungs.
There is no surgery that can eliminate mesothelioma risk after asbestos exposure. But that’s not to say that several proactive steps cannot be taken to protect future health.
Internationally, awareness of asbestos, research into prevention of diseases caused by asbestos fibre and treatment of those diseases, continues in many countries.
For people who find that they have been exposed to asbestos, the extent and seriousness of resulting illness will depend on many factors such as the person’s own natural immune system, how early medical attention has been sought and the progress of medical science over future years, to combat asbestos-induced illnesses.
To avoid exposure in the first place, it’s important to get an asbestos survey in an area you might run the risk of disturbing asbestos fibres. Chemcare can help you through this process. Get in contact today.