Because low levels of asbestos fibers are present in soil, water, and air, everyone can be exposed to asbestos at some point in their life. Exposure to naturally occurring asbestos is minimal and generally does not pose a health risk. However, if asbestos-containing materials deteriorate or are not properly contained during demolition or renovation, vehicle maintenance (brakes and clutches), mining, and manufacturing activities, asbestos fibers can be released and become airborne. The fibers can be inhaled into the lungs and remain there for a long time.
Asbestos poses serious health risks to individuals who are exposed to high concentrations of fibers over a short period of time (acute exposure) or lower levels over a long period of time (chronic exposure). Symptoms of illness may not occur until many years after exposure. Studies link the inhalation of asbestos fibers to an increased risk of fatal diseases:
- Asbestosis (a scarring of the lungs that causes increasingly labored breathing)
- Mesothelioma (a cancer of the lining of the lungs and abdominal cavity)
- Lung cancer
The Indiana State Department of Health does not enforce any asbestos regulations but its epidemiologists coordinate with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (U.S. EPA) and communicate with citizens on public health concerns related to asbestos exposure in Indiana. The U.S. EPA Asbestos site provides additional information about health effects from exposure to asbestos and how to protect your family. Individuals who believe they have been exposed to asbestos and are seeking help should contact their local health department or a medical care provider.
When construction, demolition, mining, and manufacturing activities release asbestos into the environment, it contaminates the air (where it can be inhaled), water (where it can be ingested), and soil (where it can easily be disturbed and redistributed into the air). Asbestos can remain suspended in the air for long periods of time. It can be carried long distances by wind or water before settling, thus contaminating areas far away from its source. Because asbestos does not break down or biodegrade, it poses a significant risk to humans.