When asbestos is in good condition, it poses no significant health risks. In fact one bright spark in America calculated that a person sitting in a building with properly maintained asbestos is more likely to be struck by lightning than to contract an asbestos-related disease.

The danger arises when asbestos is damaged - through bumps and scrapes sustained by any building over the years - or destroyed by cutting, drilling or ripping

When disturbed, asbestos releases airborne fibres which can kill. Individuals working in the building and maintenance trades e.g. builders, plumbers, electricians, cable installers are at greatest risk from asbestos. These people are most likely to work on a building without sufficient knowledge as to where asbestos might be and how to avoid it.

Asbestos fibres are very narrow and are therefore easily breathed in. They do not dissolve and will remain in the lungs for a very long time, perhaps indefinitely. 

All asbestos types are dangerous however some are more hazardous than others.

Brown and blue asbestos have strong stiff fibres. They become easily lodged in the lungs, and our immune systems are unable to break them down. White asbestos has a different structure. This makes it softer and more flexible, making it less hazardous. 

It is rapidly cleared from the lungs but prolonged exposure does cause lung cancer and other conditions. 

Inhaling asbestos fibres can cause several conditions, but the three most well known and most problematic are asbestosis, lung cancer and mesothelioma.

Asbestosis is a disease of the lungs caused by relatively heavy and regular exposure. It is incurable and can result in death at an early age. It causes scarring of the spongy lung tissue, which restricts lung function, resulting in increasing shortness of breath and a dry cough. 

Asbestosis also increases the risk of lung cancer.

Lung cancer is most commonly known to be caused by tobacco smoke but can also be caused by asbestos. Smoking multiplies the risk of lung cancer to asbestosis sufferers. For example, someone who smokes 20 cigarettes a day is 15 times more likely to suffer from lung cancer than a non-smoker is. If the smoker also works with asbestos, this risk is tripled to 75 times more likely to suffer lung cancer than a non-smoking, non-asbestos worker.

Mesothelioma can be caused by all kinds of asbestos dust, but particularly blue asbestos. It is a cancer of the lining of the lung, or much less commonly the lining of the abdominal cavity, or of the heart. There is a high instance of this disease in asbestos workers, and a much smaller dose is required due to the fibre structure. It may also affect those who washed dust-laden clothing, or who lived close to an asbestos factory. It is incurable and causes a great deal of pain and suffering, with those affected dying approximately 2 years from diagnosis. 

There is a long latent period of around 20 to 40 years between exposure and development of the disease, hence the reason that new cases are still coming to light. The annual total number of mesothelioma deaths in Great Britain is estimated to peak at around 2500 deaths, some time between the years 2011 and 2015.

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