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Infrequently Asked Questions About Asbestos

You might know the basics of asbestos. But there’s so much more to this killer mineral that you don’t know.

Once It Is Airborne, How Long Does Asbestos Stay in The Air?

Once the dust is disturbed, it can remain in the air for a very long time—up to 72 hours before the fibres settle. And then, if moved again by someone walking through the room or a breeze, it will likely become airborne again. This is one of the reasons why you must always get a professional to remove asbestos—because if not removed correctly and all the fibres removed from the air, it can be inhaled or ingested.

Is There Always Asbestos in The Air?

There are low levels of asbestos in the air, more in the cities than in the country, but it is always there. This ambient level of asbestos usually has around 10 to 200 asbestos fibres for every 1000 litres. This is about 0.01 to 0.20 fibres per litre of air. This means the average person can breathe up to 5000 asbestos fibres every day.

This is from a general asbestos breakdown in buildings around you, and also any naturally occurring asbestos in the area. However, the risk of developing asbestos from this background level of asbestos is very low.

Can You Wash Asbestos from Clothing?

Asbestos is very difficult to get out of clothing, and regular washing machines are not designed for the task. Trying to wash asbestos-contaminated clothing can expose you to the fibres as they become airborne.

How Do You Know You’ve Inhaled Asbestos?

In short, you don’t. There is rarely any indication in the short term that you’ve inhaled or ingested asbestos. However, over time, there are some symptoms that may develop that could indicate you were exposed, although these often don’t occur until decades later.

  • Shortness of breath, hoarseness or wheezing
  • Swollen fingertips, where the fingertips become rounder than usual
  • Fatigue and/or anaemia
  • A persistent dry cough that worsens over time
  • Weight loss and loss of appetite
  • Blood in the sputum coughed up from the lungs
  • Pain or tightness in the chest
  • Difficulty when swallowing
  • Swelling of the face and/ or neck

Seek professional advice for appropriate tests and diagnosis.

Can You Breathe in Asbestos Once?

There is no ‘safe’ level of asbestos exposure. People have developed mesothelioma and asbestosis from very short periods of asbestos inhalation. A common example of this is the 9/11 attack, where firefighters exposed to the World Trade Centre dust showed a 19% higher risk of developing cancer than the general population. While short-term exposure is low risk, there are no guarantees. However, the risk is low from a one-time, low-level exposure.

What Can You Do If You Know You’ve Been Exposed to Asbestos?

If you know you’ve been exposed to asbestos, there is nothing you can do at the time. However, avoiding more exposure to asbestos is wise, and there is a known link between cigarette smoking and asbestos-related diseases, so ensure you stop smoking.

Will Asbestos Make Your Skin Itch?

Asbestos fibres will not make your throat or skin itch. They do not make you sneeze or cough.

Can They Remove Asbestos from Lungs?

There is no known way to remove asbestos fibres from the lungs. Once they are inhaled, unless they break down naturally, there is no way to remove them. This is why it is so important to avoid exposure in the first place.

Do N95 Masks Protect Against Asbestos?

N95 masks do not protect against asbestos.

Can Asbestos Penetrate the Skin?

While asbestos fibres can penetrate the skin, they don’t seem to transfer through to the blood.

Is There Asbestos in Talcum Powder and Makeup?

Talc is a naturally occurring mineral, and unfortunately, asbestos is generally located in the same place. Therefore, when talc is mined, it will likely contain some asbestos, potentially trace elements, but nonetheless, it is there. Talcum powder is still sold on the market, and it is present in a number of cosmetic products. In November 2020, a study found that 14% of makeup that contained talc, also contained asbestos.

Do All Stippled and Popcorn Ceilings Have Asbestos in Them?

If this popular ceiling treatment was completed before the 1990’s, it’s likely that it contains asbestos. If you are unsure, please get it tested.

Can Asbestos Be Burned?

Asbestos is highly inflammable. This is why it was such a popular building material, because it was highly resistant to fire. The word asbestos is derived from the Greek ‘ἄσβεστος’ which meant inextinguishable.

Does Smoking Increase the Risk of Asbestos Related Cancer?

There are a number of studies that show the combination of asbestos and smoking is hazardous. People who smoke and that are also exposed to asbestos have a higher risk of developing lung cancer than the general public, smokers, or those exposed to asbestos. In fact, the risk of developing lung cancer is bigger than individual asbestos or smoking added together.

However, it appears that stopping smoking can reduce the risk of lung cancer in people exposed to asbestos.

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