Asbestosis is a chronic fibrotic lung disease, which results from the long-term inhalation of respirable asbestos fibers.
Through passive surveillance the Environmental & Injury Epidemiology and Toxicology Unit (EIET) maintains a database of information on cases of asbestosis in the state of Texas. Texas law requires that designated professionals, primarily physicians and laboratorians, report cases of asbestosis to the Department of State Health Services (DSHS). The reports are received by EIET. Since 1986 the passive reporting of asbestosis has been supplemented by conducting quarterly reviews of death certificates to identify certificates with asbestosis listed as a cause of death.
Frequently Asked Questions
What is asbestos?
Asbestos is a group of naturally occurring silicate fibers with a crystalline structure. These fibers can only be identified under a microscope. Mined and milled from native rock, asbestos is fibrous, thin, and strong. Characteristics, like heat resistance, chemical inertness, and insulating capacity, coupled with the flexibility to be woven make asbestos suitable for use in many industrial applications. There are many different types of asbestosis fibers.
How does asbestos cause asbestosis?
When you inhale, many small particles enter your body along with the air. Your nose and the airways leading to your lungs filter out most of these particles. Asbestos particles are long thin microscopic glass-like fibers that are able to pass through these filters and enter deep into your lungs.
The lungs have cleaning cells called macrophages, which eat up any foreign particles that might make it down that deep into the lungs. When these macrophages try to eat the asbestos fibers the macrophages are cut open releasing their digestive enzymes (juices). The digestive juices in turn injure the lungs forming scars, a condition called fibrosis. As more and more macrophages try to eat the asbestos fibers, more and more damage occurs. The large-scale lung damage or fibrosis that occurs is called "Asbestosis" after the particle that caused the damage. The negative health effects associated with asbestosis may take years to develop.
How might I be exposed to asbestos fibers?
Asbestos can enter the environment from weathered natural mineral deposits and fiber releases arising from manmade asbestos products. Asbestos may be found in products like
- Floor tiles
- Roof shingles
- Automotive brakes
- Electrical, plumbing, acoustical, and structural insulation materials
How do they fibers enter and leave the body?
Breathing asbestos-containing air into the lungs is the exposure route of greatest concern. Some of the asbestos fibers reaching the lungs are eliminated in exhaled air and others are coughed from the lungs with mucus. The fibers reaching the deepest air passages of the lungs can produce the greatest damage.
The digestive system can be exposed to asbestos fibers from drinking water and mucus cleared from the lungs. A small number of fibers may penetrate the cells that line the digestive system, but only a few will reach the bloodstream. These fibers will be released in the urine. Asbestos fibers contacting the skin rarely pass through the skin into the body.
What are the clinical symptoms of asbestosis?
- Shortness of breath (primary symptom)
- Difficult breathing
- Dry, crackling rales at the lung bases, especially when inhaling
- Cough: may be dry or may produce mucus
- Chest pain or tightness
- Recurrent respiratory infections
- Oxygen deficiency
- Hemoptysis (coughing up blood)
- Loss of appetite
What occupations are at risk for asbestosis?
- Mining and Milling Asbestos
- Construction (using asbestos)
- Fireproofing and Textile Industries
- Paints and Plastics Production Industries
- Brake and Clutch Linings Production Industries
Who else may be at risk for asbestosis?
- Families of asbestos workers
- Individuals exposed to fibrous dust or waste piles from nearby asbestos plants
- Cigarette smokers exposed to asbestos have a significantly higher risk of developing lung cancer.
Can exposure to asbestos cause cancer?
Asbestos workers have an increased chance of developing two types of cancer. Lung cancer starts within the respiratory tissues, and mesothelial cancer grows from the thin membranes that surround the lung or the abdominal cavities.
Both lung cancer and mesothelioma are usually fatal. These asbestos related diseases do not appear immediately, but may develop 20 to 50 years after exposure.
What are risk factors for asbestosis?
- Exposure concentration of asbestos fibers
- Time period or duration of exposure
- How often exposure occurred
- Presence of pre-existing lung disease
- History of smoking
Is there a medical test to determine whether I have been exposed to asbestos fibers?
- Chest x-ray
- Pulmonary function test
- Periodic health examinations by a physician
Who is responsible for reporting occupational conditions including asbestosis?
- Health Professionals
- Laboratory Directors
- Any persons in charge of a clinical or hospital laboratory, blood bank, mobile unit or other facility in which a laboratory examination reveals evidence of the reportable disease.
How do you report occupational conditions?
- Click here for information on how to report.
What Healthcare Providers Need to Know about Reporting Asbestosis
- Target: health care providers
- Purpose: to promote the reporting of asbestosis
Información sobre la exposición al asbesto en el lugar de trabajo
Facts about Asbestos Exposure in the Workplace
Texas Asbestosis Rates 2004 - 2010
For additional Asbestos information see the DSHS Toxic Substances Control Division Asbestos Programs Branch web page.
For more information: NIOSH Worplace Safety and Health Topics - Asbestos