Asbestos is the name given to a group of minerals made of tiny fibres which were frequently used in building materials up until 1999.  The use of asbestos was widespread in houses, factories, schools, hospitals, offices and warehouses.  Before it became known how dangerous these fibres are, asbestos was widely used because of its excellent resistance to heat and fire, making it a great insulation material for buildings, pipes and electrics.  There are several different types of asbestos which were used in construction throughout the 20th century, the last of which was finally banned in the UK in 1999.

Is asbestos always dangerous?

Asbestos is still present in millions of houses and workplaces across the UK, and becomes dangerous when it is disturbed and the fibres are released, to be breathed in by those in the vicinity.  Most people who have this substance in their homes, apparently up to 14 million residential properties, are not at any major risk because, unless it’s disturbed, asbestos is stable and not harmful.

The vast majority of people who have been exposed to asbestos worked in the construction industry during the period when the fibres were used in building materials and little or no protection was provided to prevent them from inhaling those fibres.  There are still risks associated with building renovations and demolition, but only licensed contractors can now legally remove and dispose of asbestos, and they have to follow strict protocols to ensure the work is carried out safely.

What kind of diseases does asbestos cause?

Asbestos can cause permanent damage once it is inhaled into the lungs of the victim, but as the symptoms can take decades to show, there are usually no immediate signs of illness at all.

Although some people do not go on to develop any problems as a result of asbestos exposure, there are several serious, and some fatal, diseases which can arise, including:

Mesothelioma is a highly aggressive cancer which usually affects the lung lining and, because symptoms don’t usually materialise for some years after exposure, it is often diagnosed too late for treatment to be effective.

Asbestosis is a condition caused by scarring and inflammation of the lung tissue after heavy exposure to asbestos, usually over a sustained period of time.  Whilst in itself, asbestosis isn’t always fatal, the damage caused is irreversible and victims usually suffer from progressive shortness of breath.

Asbestos-related lung cancer is similar to cancer of the lung caused by smoking, for example, but this is caused primarily by exposure to asbestos rather than any other major contributing factors.  It’s estimated that there are around as many deaths per year from asbestos-related lung cancer as there are from mesothelioma.

Pleural thickening is a condition that can arise after asbestos exposure where the lining of the lung becomes scarred and thickens.  This can cause shortness of breath, chest discomfort and, once the damage has been done to the lungs, it cannot be repaired.

How can you tell if you have an asbestos-related disease?

Due to their nature, asbestos-related conditions can take a long time to manifest themselves, sometimes up to thirty years or more, and some people don’t even realise that they were exposed to asbestos until their illness comes to light.  If you think that you may have had asbestos exposure in the past, then the best course of action, even if you have no symptoms, is to visit your GP and explain your concerns.

What can I do once I’ve been diagnosed with an asbestos-related disease?

If you, or a loved one, has been diagnosed with an illness related to asbestos exposure that was experienced some time ago, it can come as a real shock.  Getting the right medical treatment and care is the first priority, but many people diagnosed with asbestos-related conditions also worry a great deal about their family and what will happen when they are no longer around.

This is one reason why those diagnosed, or their families, contact a firm of asbestos solicitors to see if they are able to claim compensation.  Knowing that the family don’t have to worry about finances can be a huge weight off the minds of everyone involved.

Whilst no amount of compensation can change the diagnosis, it can mean that families get a measure of closure and justice in what is always a very difficult situation.