Although asbestos has been banned, any building from the 1970’s or older may still contain it. If you live in the UK, any building more than ten years old may contain it. Undisturbed asbestos is not a problem but if it becomes damaged, the microscopic fibers can break off and be inhaled, causing asbestosis.
Here are a few tips to minimize your risk of developing asbestosis:
• If you have asbestos in your house and want to remove it, don’t attempt to do this on your own. Call in a professional who has been trained to work with asbestos.
• If you are working with licensed asbestos products, such as insulation, make sure you receive up to date health and safety training from your employer and that you are properly licensed.
• When working with such products, make sure you wear a mask and other protective gear.
• If you suspect asbestos has been spilled, DON’T sweep it up or vacuum clean it.
• If building your home, buy only environmentally friendly building materials.
• Asbestos is in all sorts of products, including some vinyl flooring and even adhesives such as glue to stick down the flooring. If you aren’t sure if your home contains asbestos, consider having a professional home inspection.
If you have been exposed to asbestos:
• Go to your health care provider as soon as possible. There is some indication that early X-ray to monitor the condition of the lungs may prevent asbestosis. Yearly examinations should be done to ensure you are still healthy, as prompt treatment can mean the difference between life and death.
• If you smoke, give up immediately. People who have been in contact with asbestos have a risk of a cancer called mesothelioma, which is a lung and abdominal cancer caused only by asbestos. Nearly every smoker with asbestosis goes on to develop mesothelioma.
• If you feel your exposure was through occupational negligence, consider taking legal action and visit a personal injury lawyer. Some offer no win, no fee terms.
• Find out what injury or disability benefits you may be entitled to, if you have to give up work or are no longer able to work due to your illness.
• If you develop chest pains or a worsening of any symptoms, consult your doctor.
Joanna is a freelance health writer for The Mother magazine and Suite 101 with a column on infertility, http://infertility.suite101.com/. She is author of the book, 'Breast Milk: A Natural Immunisation,' and co-author of an educational resource on disabled parenting, in addition to running a charity for people damaged by vaccines or medical mistakes.