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What Is Asbestos?

Asbestos is a naturally occurring, fibrous mineral. It was used extensively in the UK from the 1950s until the late 1990's. Unfortunately, although the banning of asbestos began in 1985 and being finalised in 1999, it can still be found today in many buildings such as schools, hospitals and non-domestic and domestic dwellings.

There are three main common types of asbestos,  blue (crocidolite), brown (amosite) and white (chrysotile) asbestos.  Due to the versatility, asbestos was mixed with other materials and moulded into many forms, including sheeting and cloth. This makes it difficult to identify and you may come across it in your work.

Asbestos does not pose an immediate threat to health providing it is not disturbed or disintegrating.

Many people have been exposed to asbestos fibres through their own work, through secondary exposure through the work of colleagues, washing a family member’s contaminated clothing or living near to an asbestos factory. The exposure is likely to have taken place many decades ago. Not everyone who has been exposed to asbestos will develop an asbestos-related condition. However, for those people who do, it is important that they receive independent and impartial advice from specialists.

Asbestos Diseases

Exposure to asbestos can cause different asbestos-related diseases.

On diagnosis you will be advised on the type of disease you are suffering with.

Different types of diseases have different types of symptoms which vary in terms of the impact they may have on your health and the types of treatment that may be involved.



​Mesothelioma is an incurable cancer caused by exposure to asbestos dust and fibre. It usually develops in the fluid in the lining of the lungs, known as  pleural mesothelioma. Rarely, it can also affect the lining of the abdomen which is known as peritoneal mesothelioma and the lining of the heart, known as pericardial mesothelioma. Mesothelioma of the testicle is also rare. This is where  the disease is found in the tunica vaginalis which is thin membrane that surrounds, protects and insulates the testicles.



Lung Cancer

​Lung cancer can be caused by significant exposure by inhaling asbestos dust and fibre over a period of time.  Asbestos-related lung cancer typically takes between 15 and 35 years to develop from initial exposure to onset of symptoms.

Examples of occupational exposure are veterans, miners, construction workers, ship-building and fire fighting.

Lung cancer can have causes other than exposure to asbestos, the most common being smoking.  Please seek GP advice for advice.



​Asbestosis is the name for fibrosis in the lung caused by significant exposure to asbestos. This condition is caused when large quantities of asbestos fibres, over time, damage the inner structure of the lungs, resulting in breathlessness. This is a non-cancerous condition, however it can increase the risk of lung cancer.


Pleural Thickening

​Pleural thickening is caused when asbestos fibres breathed in penetrate the lining or pleura of the lungs, causing thickening of this lining. This causes restriction to breathing because the lungs cannot expand fully, which causes breathlessness and difficulty in taking a deep breath. You may also experience a dull chest pain.  


Pleural Plaques

​Pleural plaques are areas of scarring on the lining of the lungs caused by asbestos fibres penetrating the lining of the lung. They may become more extensive but they do not develop into any other asbestos disease. Pleural plaques are non-cancerous and do not develop into cancer over time. There is currently no compensation schemes in place in England and Wales for this disease.



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