One of the most important groups of six different fibrous minerals is asbestos. The different fibrous materials are chrysotile, amosite, crocidolite, fibrous varieties of actinolite, tremolite and anthophyllite. They have thin microscopic fibres that are heat and fire resistant and are not perishable by chemicals. The fibres cannot be biologically degraded.
These fibres are so small that they cannot be seen with naked eyes. Asbestos also does not conduct electricity. Hence, it is widely mined and used in industries such as construction and automotive industries.
What is Asbestos Exposure?
When the products that contain asbestos are disturbed, they release the asbestos fibres into the air. If these asbestos fibres are inhaled or breathed in, then the fibres get trapped in the lungs. Since asbestos cannot be easily eliminated and damaged by other chemicals, they can stay within the lungs for long and as a result, they may lead to severe health troubles, including in children.1
The asbestos that is used in the various articles and materials such as fire doors, floor tiles, ceiling tiles, shingles, undamaged laboratory cabinet tops, siding shingles and the like, would not be released under normal circumstances. These asbestos articles and elements would not be hazardous or harmful for the health if they are undisturbed. It is only when these articles and elements are disturbed through activities and physical impacts of grinding, drilling, buffing, sawing, cutting, water damage and continuous vibration that the articles become disturbed and they start releasing the dusts and microfibers. It is the friable fibres that cause the harm and these activities increase the friability of asbestos. When the friable asbestos comes into contact with breathing air, it can cause serious health hazards in children.2
Health Problems in Children Related to Asbestos Exposure
Asbestos can be very harmful for the health if it gets into the body. The most obvious way through which asbestos can get into the body is through breathing. At first the asbestos dusts and micro fibres get trapped into the mucous membrane of the throat and nose. These can be removed with coughing and with blowing the nose.
However, if the dusts and fibres get into the lungs, it becomes very difficult to remove them. If the dust from the throat is swallowed down, it can also get into the digestive tract.
Since the lodged asbestos fibres are extremely difficult to remove from the body tissue and the lungs, due to the imperishable quality of this element, they can cause various health problems; especially in children.3 If your child has been exposed to asbestos for a prolonged period in their life, you will not be able to diagnose the symptoms from asbestos exposure in your child instantly. The signs and symptoms of developing the various diseases from asbestos exposure in children will occur after decades of the exposure. The possible diseases that exposure to asbestos might develop in the children, after years and decades of the exposure, when they grow up are:
Asbestosis is a chronic and very serious respiratory health problem from asbestos exposure in children. The inhaled fibres of asbestos scar the lungs by aggravating the tissues of lungs. It is caused when the exposure levels are very high and prolonged exposure to asbestos. Asbestosis cannot be diagnosed until decades have passed since the exposure to asbestos had taken place.4 Gradually the tissues of lungs in the child start to thicken and it restricts the path of breathing and causes severe pain. Within 1995 to 2004, more than 13,000 Americans have died due to asbestosis.5 Asbestosis can develop within 7 years after asbestos exposure, or it may take as long as 20 years.
Hence, if your child has had an exposure to asbestos, you must make sure that you take good notice of his or her symptoms, if any occurs after such a long period.
Lung cancer is the most common health hazard associated with asbestos exposure. People, who are directly involved in tasks like milling, mining, manufacturing and using asbestos and related products; can develop lung cancer.6
Pleural Changes or Pleural Plaques
Hardening and thickening of the pleura or the lining of the chest cavity and the lungs is also a health hazard from exposure to asbestos in children; years after their exposure.
About 2,000 – 3,000 new cases of Mesothelioma occur every year alone in the United States of America. Mesothelioma is also a kind of cancer that occurs in the lining of the abdominal cavity and the covering of the lungs.7 Mesothelioma occurs 20 to 50 years after exposure to asbestos and occurs mostly in workers, who work in asbestos factories or industries that involve asbestos. When the workers come back to home with their clothes filled with asbestos dust, the children are quite likely to inhale the asbestos dust. As a result, children can also develop mesothelioma as they grow up due to asbestos exposure.8
Causes and Risk Factors for Health Problems Related to Asbestos Exposure in Children:
As the name suggests, the diseases caused by asbestos exposure are indeed caused by the ingestion or inhalation of asbestos dust or microfibers. If your child is exposed for a prolonged period to asbestos release, it is likely that he or she will develop diseases associated with asbestos exposure in the later years. However, exposure to asbestos does not essentially mean that your child will develop these diseases for sure, when he or she grows up. There are many other risk factors associated with asbestos exposure and these are:
The length or period of exposure to asbestos – the longer is the asbestos exposure, the more obvious becomes the occurrence of the diseases in the child.
The extent of exposure – the denser is the asbestos dust, the greater will be the impact of health problems from asbestos exposure in children.
How young you were or the child was at the time of asbestos exposure – if the child is at a tender age at the time of asbestos exposure, it will cause more obvious health problems from asbestos exposure.
If you become a smoker as you grow up – smokers have a 50 to 84% greater risk of developing cancer caused by asbestos exposure.
The size and type of asbestos that you were exposed to determines the health problems the child may suffer from asbestos exposure.
Developing other lung diseases increases the risk of health problems from asbestos exposure in children.
What are the Signs and Symptoms of Asbestos Exposure in Children?
The different health hazards that are associated with asbestos exposure have different signs and symptoms. However, children will not develop any of these signs and symptoms in their childhood, immediately after the exposure. It takes years and decades for the asbestos dust and microfibers to cause the diseases and pose threats on the health of the children. Hence, if any of these signs and symptoms of asbestos exposure occurs in childhood, they will possibly be associated with some other diseases.
However, as children grow up, they might fall victim to these health problems from asbestos exposure. Therefore, it is the responsibility of the care giver or the parent to take good notice if any of these signs and symptoms from asbestos exposure have developed in their children.
Symptoms of Asbestosis in Children:
The primary symptoms of asbestos exposure are: shortness of breath and decreased tolerance for physical exertion. The other symptoms are of asbestos exposure include:
- Dry inspiratory crackles.
- “Clubbing” of the fingers.
- Misshapen nails.
- Softening of the fingernail beds.
- Loss of appetite.
- Chest pain.
- Cardiac failure.
- Weight loss.
- Swelling in the neck or face.
- Blood in the sputum.
- Difficulty swallowing.
Symptoms of Lung Cancer from Asbestos Exposure in Children
- Shortness of breath.
- Persistent chest pains.
- Chronic cough.
- Coughing up blood.
- Unexplained weight loss.
Symptoms of Pleural Plaques from Asbestos Exposure in Children
- Persistent shortness of breath.
- Decreased lung function.
Symptoms of Mesothelioma from Asbestos Exposure in Children:
- Shortness of breath.
- Fluid build-up.
- Pain near tumor.
- Weight loss.
- Dry cough.
- Bowel obstruction.9
How Much Asbestos Exposure in Children Could Cause Health Problems?
Asbestos can cause harm to you only when you are exposed to a huge amount of asbestos dust or fibres. Small and insignificant amount of asbestos cannot affect much to the health, especially if other conditions are not against the general health. However, there are people, who despite being exposed to asbestos, are not affected. It is only when the asbestos fibres and dusts get into the lungs and the body systems that it slowly damages the system and cause different health difficulties.
Children suffer severely with health problems from asbestos exposure, as they cannot resist the effects of this condition. Since the signs and symptoms related to asbestos exposure will occur decades after the asbestos exposure has actually occurred, you can be rest assured that the signs and symptoms similar to the diseases caused by asbestos exposure are actually associated with some other health condition. If you think that the health of your children is at risk since they are roaming about in the household that incorporates many of the equipment and fittings that are made up of asbestos, you are mistaken. For causing health hazards in children, the asbestos needs to be in the free form.
Since there is no ‘safe level’ for asbestos exposure that can determine how safe or how vulnerable you are to develop the diseases caused by asbestos exposure, you need to make sure that your children are not exposed to asbestos within your knowledge. The longer the child is exposed, the higher is the chance that he or she will develop health problems from asbestos exposure as they grow up.10
Diagnosis of Asbestos-Related Health Problems:
Diagnosis of the diseases caused by asbestos exposure is not easy. Since children do not get affected with health problems at a tender age, immediately after the asbestos exposure has occurred, it is very important to keep an eye on their symptoms, if they are developing any, after 7 to 10 years of asbestos exposure. This is the period in which the asbestos dust that entered the body will likely be exposing their impacts. Children can also be having similar symptoms due to other causes. As children grow up, shortness of breath and other similar difficulties are common symptoms that will probably occur from asbestos exposure. If any of these asbestos exposure symptoms take place, visiting the doctor is a must.
The doctor will diagnose the symptoms and find out through case history if the person has had any asbestos exposure in the childhood. The doctor will also recommend some other diagnostic tests for health problems from asbestos exposure, such as:
- Chest x-ray.
- Computerized Tomography (CT) Scan.
- Pulmonary Function Test (PFT).
- Bronchoalveolar Lavage (BAL).
- Lung Biopsy.11
It is always better to keep your children as far from asbestos exposure as possible. This is the best way to prevent these health problems from asbestos exposure in children. However, if the children are exposed to asbestos dust, it is very important that you have them go through regular medical examinations, so that health problem, if any occurs, are diagnosed in the very initial stage.