Since the mid-1900's, many studies have been performed to determine the possible health effects associated with exposure to asbestos fibers. The results of these studies have indicated that high levels of exposure to airborne asbestos fibers may cause a variety of pulmonary (involving the lungs and breathing) diseases.
The most notable of the diseases associated with asbestos is Asbestosis. Asbestosis is the scarring of the tissues of the lungs (including the alveoli, tiny air sacs where the primary exchange of oxygen occurs between the air and blood) which causes a reduction in lung capacity. The relationship between the development of Asbestosis and exposure to airborne asbestos is dose related. The greater the asbestos exposure, the greater the likelihood of developing Asbestosis.
Although Asbestosis has been positively linked to asbestos exposure, it may be years after the exposure before disease develops. In fact, Asbestosis typically has a latency period of 15-30 years after exposure.
Other asbestos related respiratory diseases include Mesothelioma, pleural (the body cavity that surrounds the lungs) abnormalities, and lung cancer. Studies have also shown exposure to airborne asbestos fibers may cause cancer of the esophagus, colon, pancreas, and stomach.
NOTE: Although it has been documented that exposure to asbestos may cause an increased risk of developing one of the diseases mentioned above, it should be made clear that the results of the studies are based on exposure to airborne asbestos fibers. If an asbestos-containing material is in good condition and is not damaged to the point that asbestos fibers are released, there is little chance of exposure to potentially dangerous airborne asbestos fibers.