First Aid for Asbestos Exposure: 4 Things to Do
Science has made it clear that asbestos is a highly toxic element filtered through concrete buildings. Asbestos exposure is carcinogenic— meaning it can cause cancer, most prominently mesothelioma, which doctors consider one of the worst forms of cancer.

Mesothelioma has quite a long latency span (around 25– 50 years), making treating it quite a challenge. Soon after diagnosis, a victim is given a 12-21 month life expectancy.

Our body senses can’t easily detect asbestos, making it a menacing threat to human health. It has no smell detectable smell and doesn’t irritate the skin when in contact. What’s more, it can spread quickly through the air and can only be removed by specialists.

Here is a guide on what to do if you get exposed to asbestos.
First Aid for Asbestos Exposure
What to Do:
1.      If Asbestos particles contaminate Your Eye
Asbestos dust will cause a sting in the eye, but rubbing your eyes won’t help. So if your eyes get contaminated with asbestos particles, your first move should be to immediately wash them with gently running lukewarm water for not less than 5 minutes. If irritation persists, visit a doctor ASAP.
2.      In case you breathe in Asbestos particles
Unfortunately, there’s no known way to expel asbestos dust from your system once it gets in. But the huge motivation is the fact that you can take steps to moderate the risk.

First, flee from the contaminated area as soon as possible to avoid prolonged exposure. Find an open space with clean and fresh air.

Tip: If you intend to rescue someone who has been exposed to the dangerous asbestos particles, you must first protect yourself by putting on protective equipment.
3.      If Asbestos dust gets in contact with your skin
The first step is to get away from the contaminated area immediately. And because asbestos dust might have also contaminated your clothing, it is advisable to gently remove clothes and keep them in a sealed synthetic bag.

Next, you might need to take not less than 5 minutes in the shower to ensure your skin is thoroughly washed. Be sure to use mild soap, and at all costs, do not rub your skin. Also, make sure the shower is continuously flowing, so you thoroughly wash the asbestos dust away.
4.      If you unintentionally Ingest Asbestos Fibers
Rinse your mouth repeatedly with clean water. If you feel unwell, be sure to call a physician or poison control without delay.

As revealed above, the first thing to do when you get exposed to asbestos is to leave the contaminated place immediately. Experts insist on this because the longer you get exposed, the greater the risk of developing asbestos-related diseases.

Lastly, once you’ve conducted the first aid for asbestos exposure, it is wise to seek a doctor’s medical advice.
What is Asbestos?
Asbestos is a collection of disease-causing particle minerals that occur naturally in the form of fine fiber packs.  Humans can contract several ailments due to asbestos exposure.

In the past, asbestos was used heavily as part of the final furnish within buildings. It was used within the floor, ceiling, and even walls. Currently, it is a banned product in the United Kingdom and several other countries.

Timeworn buildings that still have asbestos installations can pose health risks to the occupants. When asbestos undergoes wear and tear over time, the tiny fibers are released into the air and can cause many complications when inhaled.
Types/Forms of Asbestos
Asbestos can occur in two primary forms. These forms include the chrysotile and amphibole asbestos.  Here is a breakdown of their individual properties.
●       Amphibole form
It comprises microscopic fibers that have a distinct needle-like appearance. The various subgroups of asbestos include blue asbestos, brown asbestos, actinolite, and tremolite.
●       Chrysolite form
It comprises tiny fibers that have a spiral-like characteristic. Due to this, it is known as serpentine asbestos. This form of asbestos has a white appearance and is commonly used in several industrial processes.

Asbestos fibers are heat, electricity, and chemical resistant. Because of this, it has been used as an insulator for many years. However, both categories of asbestos are harmful to human health.

When asbestos degrades, it forms tiny fibers that are so light that they can become airborne. When this happens, the particles can stay in the air for several hours and even days.

An individual who comes near the asbestos may inhale these tiny fibers causing them to reach their lungs. Such threads will adhere to the lubricated layer in the lungs and eventually lead to a range of medical complications.
Is Asbestos Exposure Harmful?
Although some individuals may state that asbestos is not harmful if it stays intact, most medical and scientific professionals persist that all asbestos is hazardous until proven otherwise. Since asbestos fibers are very minute, you cannot see, taste, or smell when they are in the atmosphere.

An individual may inhale the asbestos particles and live for many years without even knowing their lungs are suffering from asbestos-related illnesses. In most incidents, the affected individual will not present respiratory complication symptoms such as coughing, sneezing, or thoracic discomfort.

Nowadays, it is possible to measure the number of fine asbestos fibers in the air. In this process, you collect several volumes of air within a building and check for asbestos concentration.

Such an analysis measures the number of fibers within a single cubic centimeter of air. Air that contains an equivalent or lower concentration of 0.01 fibers per cubic centimeter is considered clean.

What Factors Determine the Manifestation of Asbestos Symptoms?

When people are exposed to asbestos fibers, several factors determine when the harmful effects start to manifest and their severity. These aspects include:

  • The amount and concentration of the inhaled fibers.
  • The total period of exposure.
  • Mechanism of exposure, which may be through inhalation or ingestion.
  • Additional chemical agents may aggravate the effect of asbestos in the body.
  • Age and gender of the affected individual
  • Nutritional, health, and lifestyle status
  • Family genetics

After this, it is essential to note the latency period for asbestos-related diseases. A latency period refers to the time between exposure and when you start to experience the sickness manifestations.

After how long do the symptoms appear?

Asbestos has a latency timeline of 9-35 years. This means an individual will begin to experience health issues after the end of the latency period.

Exposure to asbestos puts you at a significantly higher chance of contracting mesothelioma, asbestosis, and other asbestos-related ailments. However, it is essential to note that not all individuals who undergo exposure will develop asbestos-related diseases.

Asbestos-related diseases are hard to remedy, and a majority of them lack therapy altogether. As with many other ailments, prevention is better than the cure. Avoiding places with asbestos is your best option when it comes to preventing such illnesses.

Doctors use various techniques to identify asbestos exposure. The most commonly used method is chest scans. X-ray and computer-aided tomography (CAT) scans can assist in identifying changes in a person’s respiratory system.

Such thoracic scans do not identify the asbestos particles but assist in detecting the early manifestations of asbestos-related ailments.

Potential Illnesses from Asbestos Exposure

Exposure to asbestos, particularly through inhalation, can be very hazardous to your health. You can develop a wide range of ailments and complications that include the following:
1.     Pleural plaques
The pleural membrane is the thin tissue that covers the epithelial cells within the lungs and the ribcage. It comprises two distinct layers and contains a lubricant. When you inhale asbestos, the pleural layers tend to thicken and form a whitish residue known as pleural plaques.

The development of pleural plaques does not necessarily mean that you have or will have a severe ailment. However, contact with asbestos fibers increases the probability of developing a lung ailment.

So far, scientific studies indicate that pleural plaques do not escalate the risk of contracting lung ailments. The development of such plaques is not an indication of cancer.


A majority of pleural plaque incidents do not present any immediate manifestations. A patient can stay with such plaques for several years without any significant impact on their health. They may not even notice they have the ailment.

Pleural plaques may accumulate and harden over time, leading to a reduction in the lung’s overall volume capacity. When this occurs, the patient may experience shortness of breath and other breathing difficulties.

It is essential to note that pleural plaques can arise due to factors other than exposure to asbestos. Infections, inflammations, and smoking can lead to plaque buildup.

If you ever experience a shortness of breath, a persistent cough, or chest discomfort, you should get prompt medical attention. You should never assume these manifestations relate to plaque buildup and ignore them.

Such symptoms may be from another unrelated ailment that may require prompt medical action.


A medical professional may do a CT scan to identify pleural plaques. However, pleural plaques have no known treatment. If you are a smoker, then you should consider quitting. Smoking irritates and aggravates pleural plaques and can lead to chronic obstructive pulmonary disease.

2.     Asbestosis

Asbestosis is a severe lung ailment that arises as a direct result of long-term exposure to asbestos. When you inhale fine asbestos fibers for a long time, it leads to scarring of the lungs. Scarred tissue does not have the elasticity of normal cells.

Scarred lungs lack the optimal capacity to hold air. Patients with asbestosis will develop breathing difficulties along with other manifestations that may vary from insignificant to severe.

Most individuals contract this disease while conducting their routine occupational work. People at high risk of getting this ailment include plumbers, electricians, carpenters, and asbestos miners. Asbestosis puts you at risk of contracting other serious diseases such as lung cancer and mesothelioma.


Since asbestos ailments have a long latency period, most manifestations may appear 9-30 years after the initial exposure. Asbestosis may present the following signs:

  • Shortness or impairment of breath is a significant symptom of the illness.
  • An insistent cough that never seems to end.
  • Development of club fingers. Fingers of the affected individual tend to become curved and have a club-like appearance.
  • Discomfort and pain in the chest cavity.
  • A sudden loss of weight

If you experience a combination of these manifestations and have a history of asbestos exposure, you should seek prompt medical assistance. Medical professionals may detect the ailment through a chest X-ray, lung function test, or listening to a crackling noise that may arise from the chest area.


Asbestosis has no known cure. Exposure to asbestos leads to irreparable damage to tissues within the lungs. However, several therapeutic strategies aim at relieving the manifestations of the disease.

Doctors can prescribe a wide range of medications to alleviate symptoms and apply oxygen therapy when necessary. As a patient, you can reduce the manifestations by avoiding smoking and abiding by the doctor’s instructions.
3.      Cancer
Cancer is a severe ailment characterized by the abnormal development of cells that can break off and relocate to other body areas and continue growing without control. With time the cancerous cells infect healthy cells leading to loss of function.

Cancer has four developmental stages that range from 1-4 in terms of severity. Asbestos may be carcinogenic when ingested or inhaled. Researchers have conducted conclusive clinical and laboratory studies that indicate that asbestos predisposes you to cancer.

Clinical studies may involve the analysis of cancer risk in individuals who are exposed to asbestos are those who are not. However, such studies tend to have ambiguous results since many factors come into play when detecting cancer risk, not just exposure to asbestos.

Laboratory studies involve animal experiments that determine if the exposure leads to the development of cellular and tissue mutations that cause cancer. Although such tests may not represent what will happen to a human being, they go a long way in finding out if a substance is carcinogenic.

Recent laboratory studies indicate that all forms of asbestos cause mutations and tumor development in rodents. Experiments also show that the dimensional measurements of the fibers affect the occurrence of cancer mutations. Thin straight fibers appear to be more perilous, attributed to the possibility that they quickly reach the lung’s inner compartment.

When it comes to asbestos, cancer is a dose-related ailment. The more you come into contact with asbestos, the more likely you are likely to contract cancer.

After several studies, The International Agency for Research on Cancer labeled asbestos a carcinogen to human beings. Asbestos can lead to the development of the following forms of cancer.
●       Lung Cancer
Long-term exposure to asbestos significantly increases the probability of contracting lung cancer. In recent studies, scientists state that all types of asbestos have a significant risk of lung cancer, especially in people who work with the substance.

In many incidents, cancer starts to develop after roughly 16 years following the initial contact with asbestos. Experts also say that individuals who work with asbestos and also smoke increase their risk of getting lung cancer.

Effects of Asbestosis on the lungs
●       Mesothelioma
Mesothelioma belongs to a category of cancers that affect the lungs. It affects the membrane that covers the chest cavity. It can affect both the pleural and peritoneal membranes and can spread to other tissues and organs.

All types of asbestos can cause this form of cancer, and most cases arise in people who work with the fibers. Relatives and friends of such workers are also at risk of contracting mesothelioma. A worker may expose people around them to asbestos if they carry the fibers from work to home on their clothes.

Mesothelioma may take up to 30 years to appear after initial asbestos exposure. Even after the initial exposure, you remain at risk of getting mesothelioma for the rest of your life. However, unlike lung cancer, smoking doesn’t compound the risk of contracting mesothelioma.


Lung and mesothelioma cancers come with diverse forms of remedies that depend on the fundamental treatments of cancer. Oncologists may administer a combination of chemicals through chemotherapy or conduct radiotherapy to target and kill cancer cells.

The stage of cancer may determine the therapeutic outcome. The early stages of cancer are easier to remedy than the later stages, such as stage 4 cancer.
Asbestos Air Monitoring Can Prevent Exposure to Breathable Asbestos
Asbestos air monitoring is a preventive process that involves testing for breathable asbestos fibers in the air to help evaluate exposure and check the efficiency of control processes. This type of monitoring is carried out where asbestos-containing products are in bad condition and may emit fine asbestos fibers into the surrounding air. It can also happen in places that served as stores but have been freed of asbestos-containing materials.

During this procedure, only breathable asbestos fibers—i.e., those with fibers less than three μm wide and more than five μm long and a Length: Width of more than 3:1— are considered a health risk.

While there’s a presumption that nearly all fibers viewed under a phase-contrast microscope that meet specific sizes and shapes are asbestos, further asbestos air testing may be needed to analyze the chemical composition. You can do this with TEM (transmission electron microscopy) assessment equipment.
When to Carry out Asbestos Air Monitoring
According to the National Occupational Health and Safety Commission, asbestos air monitoring should be carried out whenever Asbestos-containing material (ACM) is removed from one place to the next.  It can also happen when handling ACM. Airborne asbestos fibers are emitted when ACMs disintegrate. What’s more, Asbestos air monitoring can give you a quantitative analysis of the overall risk.

Asbestos air monitoring is compulsory in the case of brittle asbestos material— those that can be crushed and grounded into small particles or powder.
The different forms of asbestos air monitoring
There are four different forms of asbestos air monitoring, depending on your needs and the potential health risks the ACMs could pose.

  • Background asbestos air monitoring
  • Asbestos exposure air monitoring,
  • Control air monitoring; and
  • Clearance air monitoring

Discover more below:
1.      Background asbestos air monitoring
It involves conducting tests in the suspected area for breathable fibers before getting down on work that may disturb asbestos materials. The procedure may be carried out to check for the presence of other fibers in the air.
2.      Exposure asbestos air monitoring
Involves assessing the air in an individual’s breathing zone to define their likely exposure to breathable asbestos fibers. Exposure monitoring is designed to almost accurately estimate the subject’s exposure in comparison to national exposure standards.
3.      Control asbestos air monitoring
It tests air to assess the level of breathable airborne asbestos fibers in the surroundings while working on ACM. Control monitoring is meant to test how effective a control measure is while working on or doing away with asbestos-containing materials.
4.      Clearance asbestos air monitoring
It entails conducting air tests to check the rates of airborne asbestos fibers in the surroundings after work or the elimination of ACM. A zone or place is ‘cleared’ if the floating asbestos fibers are below 0.01 threads/mL.
A Wrap Up on First Aid for Asbestos Exposure
Asbestos is a substance that comprises silicon, oxygen, and other elements. When it degrades, it forms fine particles that can cause health complications when a person inhales or ingests them.

When selecting asbestos air testing, monitoring, and control services, ensure to pick a service provider that works in line with the Guidance Note on the Membrane Filter Method for Estimating Airborne Asbestos Fibers 2nd Edition [NOHSC: 3003 (2005)].