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steps to take if you are exposed to asbestos

What to Do if You're Exposed to Asbestos?

, by Aussie Pharma Direct, 6 min reading time

Asbestos isn't a new discovery. This naturally occurring mineral has been around for centuries, and its use in various construction materials was widespread throughout the 20th century due to its desirable properties like fire resistance and insulation. However, its hazardous nature, particularly when inhaled, became increasingly evident over time, leading to a ban on its use in many countries, including Australia, in the late 20th century and coming into the early 21st century. 

While its use has been phased out, it can still be present in older buildings, homes, and even unexpected places like mulch, as recently highlighted by the concerning news of asbestos contamination in school grounds in Sydney, Australia. These recent events have thrust asbestos back into the spotlight, prompting a renewed call for awareness and proactive measures to identify and mitigate potential risks associated with asbestos exposure.

In the upcoming sections of this blog, we'll delve deeper into the nature of asbestos, the significant health risks associated with exposure, and most importantly, what steps you should take if you suspect you've been exposed to this harmful substance.

What was asbestos used for?

Due to its properties, asbestos was extensively used in a wide range of products and applications, including building materials like insulation, roofing, flooring, and cement. It was also commonly found in automotive parts, textiles, and even household items such as appliances and decorations.

Different forms of asbestos and the health risks with asbestos exposure

Asbestos, depending on its form, poses varying levels of health risks. Understanding these distinctions is crucial for assessing and managing asbestos exposure effectively.

1. Bonded asbestos (Non-friable):

Bonded asbestos, also known as non-friable asbestos, refers to asbestos-containing materials where the asbestos fibres are firmly bound within a matrix, such as cement, vinyl, or resin.

  • Health risk - Bonded asbestos is considered less hazardous than friable asbestos because the fibres are tightly bound and less likely to become airborne under normal conditions. However, if these materials are disturbed or damaged through drilling, cutting, or abrasion, asbestos fibers can still be released into the air, posing a risk of inhalation or ingestion.
  • Examples - Asbestos cement products (roofing, pipes), vinyl floor tiles, asbestos-containing adhesives.
2. Friable asbestos:

Friable asbestos refers to asbestos-containing materials that are easily crumbled, pulverised, or reduced to powder by hand pressure when dry.

  • Health risk - Friable asbestos presents a higher level of health risk compared to bonded asbestos because the fibres are loose and readily airborne. When friable asbestos materials are disturbed or damaged, even minor activities such as sweeping or brushing can release asbestos fibres into the air, increasing the risk of inhalation or ingestion.
  • Examples - Spray-applied insulation, asbestos insulation on pipes or boilers, asbestos-containing ceiling or floor tiles that have become damaged or deteriorated.

It's important to note that both forms of asbestos can pose serious health risks if proper precautions are not taken. Exposure to any form of asbestos can lead to lung diseases such as asbestosis, lung cancer, and mesothelioma, with symptoms often taking years or decades to appear after exposure.

How to reduce the risk of asbestos exposure?

Amid concerns about asbestos exposure, there are numerous strategies to minimise risk, but one of the most immediate and crucial measures is wearing masks.

When entering or being around areas cordoned off due to the presence of asbestos, it's crucial to prioritise your safety by wearing appropriate respiratory protection, such as a P2 mask.

Even if the area may not be visibly contaminated, asbestos fibres can still pose a risk if disturbed or airborne. Wearing a mask helps reduce the likelihood of inhaling asbestos fibres, which can lead to serious health issues over time.

The use of a P2 mask is particularly effective in minimising the risk of asbestos inhalation. These masks are designed to filter out at least 94% of airborne particles, including asbestos fibres, when properly fitted and worn.

What to do if you're exposed to asbestos?

Experiencing asbestos exposure can be alarming, but it's crucial to respond promptly and appropriately to mitigate potential health risks. Here's what to do if you believe you've been exposed to asbestos:

  • Seek medical evaluation
  • If you suspect you've been exposed to asbestos, seek medical evaluation as soon as possible, even if you're not experiencing immediate symptoms. Inform your healthcare provider about the circumstances of your potential exposure, including the duration and intensity of exposure.

  • Monitor symptoms
  • Pay close attention to any symptoms that may develop following exposure to asbestos, such as coughing, chest pain, difficulty breathing, or unexplained fatigue. These symptoms could indicate underlying respiratory issues that require medical attention.

  • Follow medical advice
  • Follow any recommendations or instructions provided by your healthcare provider regarding monitoring your health, undergoing diagnostic tests, or receiving treatment. Be proactive in addressing any concerns or symptoms you may experience.

  • Avoid further exposure
  • Minimise or avoid further exposure to asbestos to prevent exacerbating potential health risks. If you work in an environment where asbestos exposure is a concern, adhere strictly to safety protocols and use appropriate personal protective equipment.

  • Notify relevant authorities
  • If you were exposed to asbestos in a workplace setting, notify your employer or supervisor about the incident. Employers have a legal obligation to provide a safe working environment and may need to take corrective actions to prevent future exposures.

  • Document the exposure
  • Keep detailed records of the circumstances surrounding your asbestos exposure, including dates, locations, activities, and any protective measures taken. Documentation may be valuable for medical purposes, legal proceedings, or seeking compensation.

  • Seek legal advice 
  • If your exposure to asbestos occurred due to negligence or unsafe practices, consider seeking legal advice to understand your rights and options for recourse. An attorney experienced in asbestos-related cases can provide guidance and support.


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