Effects of Asbestos

“Asbestos-related diseases (mainly lung cancer and mesothelioma) are the most common cause of death from occupational diseases in the UK.

When asbestos-containing materials are disturbed or damaged, fibres can be released into the air.  Breathing in asbestos fibres can lead to a number of dangerous diseases, although a slight exposure is unlikely to cause disease.  People who are exposed to asbestos can develop the diseases years later.  This is known as the latency period, where the symptoms of the disease are seen a long time after the initial exposure.

Most deaths now are the legacy of the widespread exposure to asbestos, before its use was banned.  Those most at risk today are people who regularly disturb asbestos, like tradespeople.  Working on or near damaged asbestos-containing materials, or breathing in high levels of asbestos fibres, increases the chances of getting an asbestos-related disease.  However there is no threshold exposure below which there is no risk, and all exposures are cumulative.

There are three potentially fatal asbestos-related diseases.  It can take less than 15 years to more than 60 years from first exposure for symptoms to develop.

  • Mesothelioma is a cancer of the cells which make up the membrane that covers the outer surface of most organs.  It usually starts in the lining of the lungs.
  • Lung cancer usually requires a greater exposure than mesothelioma.  If asbestos exposure has occurred then the risk of developing lung cancer is greatly increased if a person smokes.
  • Asbestosis leads to a scarring of the lung tissue and is a disease that usually progresses slowly.  Asbestosis requires a large exposure to asbestos and is rare in people who have worked in schools.  People with asbestosis have an increased risk of developing lung cancer and mesothelioma.”

This is an extract from the Department of Education’s Guidance on Managing Asbestos in Schools.

To view the guidance please click here.