Asbestos is a mineral fiber that was added to many buildings and to certain products for strengthening, heat insulation and fire resistance. Most products today are not made with asbestos. Normally safe when combined with other materials, asbestos is hazardous to the lungs when the fibers become airborne (such as when a product deteriorates and crumbles). Asbestosis is progressive, resulting in scarring of the lungs with fibrous tissue. Mesothelioma, an otherwise rare cancer of the chest lining, is also caused by asbestos exposure.

Asbestosis Symptoms

The following are the most common symptoms of lung diseases, regardless of the cause. However, each individual may experience symptoms differently. Symptoms may include:

  • Coughing
  • Shortness of breath
  • Chest pain
  • Chest tightness
  • Abnormal breathing pattern 

Asbestosis Causes

Asbestosis is caused by the inhalation of microscopic fibers of asbestos. The risk of asbestos exposure is not just limited to the workplace, since many homes were built with asbestos products (especially those homes built before 1978). Examples of products that may have previously contained asbestos include:

  • Insulation blankets or tape around steam pipes, boilers and furnace ducts
  • Resilient floor tiles
  • Vinyl sheet flooring backing
  • Adhesives used to install floor tiles
  • Insulation made of cement sheet, millboard, and paper used around furnaces and wood-burning stoves
  • Door gaskets in furnaces, wood stoves and coal stoves
  • Sprayed soundproofing or decorative material on walls and ceilings
  • Patching and joint compounds for walls and ceilings
  • Cement roofing, shingles and siding

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Occupational and environmental medicine

Northwell Health occupational and environmental specialists are implementing changes to job tasks and the environment to reduce hazardous exposures across a wide range of worplace situations.