Asbestos is responsible for over 4000 deaths every year. Younger people, if routinely exposed to asbestos fibres over time, are at greater risk of developing asbestos-related disease than older workers. This is due to the time it takes for the body to develop symptoms after exposure to asbestos (latency).
Exposure to asbestos can cause four main diseases:
- mesothelioma (a cancer of the lining of the lungs – it is always fatal and is almost exclusively caused by exposure to asbestos)
- asbestos-related lung cancer (which is almost always fatal)
- asbestosis (a scarring of the lungs which is not always fatal but can be a very debilitating disease, greatly affecting quality of life)
- diffuse pleural thickening (a thickening of the membrane surrounding the lungs which can restrict lung expansion leading to breathlessness).
The majority of the current fatal cases from asbestos exposure are associated with very high exposures from past industrial processes and installation of asbestos products.
For more information about asbestos, see http://www.hse.gov.uk/asbestos/faq.htm