The Health Impact of Environmental Exposure to Asbestos

Studies have linked more than a dozen different diseases to asbestos exposure including mesothelioma, lung cancer and asbestosis.

Asbestos-related diseases can range from mild and benign to malignant and life-threatening.

Exposure to airborne asbestos particles in the environment is a serious risk to on-going health; in many cases symptoms of an asbestos-related disease may not develop until years after the initial exposure.

Sadly, as the dangers of asbestos were once unknown, many Australians were exposed through their work, in their homes and in some public areas. Inhaling the harmful particles leaves ongoing traces in the lungs which over time, can cause various diseases.

asbestos roof
Asbestos roof; image source:

A person’s chance of developing an asbestos-related disease depends on the amount of asbestos they were exposed to, and how long this exposure lasted. If you, or a loved one may have been previously exposed to asbestos, it is important to seek the advice of a medical professional

Asbestos-related diseases


Asbestosis is a chronic and progressive lung disease, caused by inhaling asbestos fibers over an extended period of time.

The asbestos fibers cause the scar tissue to harden, leaving the lungs stiff and unable to work properly. Asbestosis causes persistent coughing and a feeling of breathlessness as it becomes harder for the lungs to receive enough oxygen.

It is important to note, that people who smoke are more likely to develop asbestosis, if you have been exposed to asbestos in the past it is therefore vital to stop smoking in order to reduce your risk of developing asbestosis.

Lung cancer

People exposed to large amounts of asbestos fibers over a long period of time have an increased risk of developing lung cancer later in life.

If not treated early, asbestos fibers can lead to tumors spread on the lungs and throughout other parts of the body. If you are experiencing an abnormal or persistent cough after previous exposure to asbestos in your life, it is important to seek early medical advice.

Pleural disorders

The pleura is the tissue that lines the chest cavity and covers the surface of the lungs. Asbestos may produce thickened patches on the pleura which reduces lung capacity over time.

Patients of a pleural disorder may experience a range of symptoms including a dry cough and shortness of breath, or they may experience no symptoms at all. Fortunately, pleural disorders will show on a chest x-ray, and if treated early excess fluid throughout the lungs can be managed.


Mesothelioma is a rare cancer affecting the outer layer of the lungs, leading to tumors on the lung and chest wall. Sadly, as a disease strongly associated with past exposure to asbestos, Australia has one of the highest national rates of the rare cancer in the world.

It is important to note that many asbestos related diseases will not develop for many years after exposure to asbestos fibers; in some cases this may be as late as 30 to 40 years after the initial exposure.

If you believe you may have been previously exposed to asbestos, it is important to seek medical advice as early detection and treatment is vital.


Due to the growing number of mesothelioma and other asbestos related disease diagnoses, Australia has placed an important emphasis on offering quality treatment to victims, researching possible cures and providing clinical trials and programs to improve the conditions of victims.

Sadly, thousands of Australians are diagnosed with asbestos related illnesses each year due to environmental exposure to harmful asbestos fibers.

Fortunately, throughout Australia there are various treatment facilities available that are dedicated purely to the research and treatment of asbestos-related diseases. If you believe that you, or a loved one may have come into contact with asbestos fibers, the most important step to take is early consultation with a medical professional.

Understanding the health impacts and symptoms of asbestos related diseases, is an important step toward early diagnosis and effective treatment where possible.

About author:
Laura Costello is in her third year of a Bachelor of Law/International Relations at Latrobe University. She is passionate about the law, the power of social media, and the ability to translate her knowledge of both common and complex legal topics to readers across a variety of mediums, in a way that is easy to understand.


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