Most of us know that asbestos is incredibly dangerous and that it can lead to various lethal conditions, including asbestosis and mesothelioma. Since this has been widely accepted, significant measures have been put in place to protect people from exposure. However, sometimes things still go wrong, and people worry about whether or not they have placed themselves at risk of developing asbestos-related illnesses due to a short term, one time, brief exposure to asbestos dust.

Types of Exposure to Asbestos Dust

There are many different types of asbestos dust, and significant exposure to this will increase someone’s risk of developing asbestos-related illnesses.

“This conclusion is based on observations of these diseases in groups of workers with cumulative exposures ranging from about 5 to 1,200 fiber-year/mL. Such exposures would result from 40 years of occupational exposure to air concentrations of 0.125 to 30 fiber/mL. The conclusion is supported by results from animal and mechanistic studies.”

However, this relates to significant exposure to asbestos, not a single exposure. Unfortunately, it seems that details on what is classed as ‘significant exposure’ is sadly lacking. There have been a number of studies that suggest that ‘brief’ exposure poses little to no risk but, again, exact details are lacking.

“The study was well conducted, but exact data on fibre concentration and type of asbestos are lacking. We suggest that occasional exposure to asbestos poses hardly any risk for the general population.”

How Much Exposure Is Too Much?

Asbestos exposure does not guarantee that the said person will develop any asbestos-related illness. This is because there are many different factors at play, including the person’s overall health, how often that person was exposed, in what conditions he or she was exposed, whether or not that person smokes, and more. In addition, there is the fact that asbestos-related diseases often take a very long time to develop, sometimes as much as 40 years.

“Whether or not asbestos exposure will cause disease depends upon how long a person is exposed to asbestos, how long it has been since the person’s exposure began and whether the person smokes cigarettes. The amount of asbestos released in a one time incident is not likely to affect your health. It will most likely not expose you to much more asbestos, over the long run, than you would be exposed to from the air we all breathe.”

Conflicting Information

Unfortunately, it seems that there is a lot of conflicting information out there about just how dangerous a one time exposure is. The general consensus is that you are not at risk of mesothelioma from a single, one time exposure. However, the recommendation is to inform your physician of this situation regardless, so that he or she is aware of a potential problem. Unfortunately, there are no tests to determine whether or not any of the fibers have lodged in the lungs or not.

So how is the information conflicting? Firstly, some suggest that doctors often paint a much bleaker picture, so that they cannot be sued later on for not warning their patients of the potential problem. Secondly, there are many people who know someone, or have heard of someone, who did develop asbestos-related illnesses due to a single or very short term exposure. On the other hand, there are stories of people working directly with asbestos never developing any conditions, while their significant others developed it due to second-hand exposure from the dust on their clothes. Others state that it took just ten years to develop stage 4 mesothelioma after having had exposure during just one day. However, these seem to be the exceptional stories, in which case there are likely to have been other factors at play as well.

What Should You Do?

If you know, or believe, that you have been exposed to asbestos, be that just once or for longer periods of time, it is important that you speak to a physician as soon as possible.

“If you’ve been exposed to asbestos, it’s important to assess the amount of your exposure. If you were exposed only very briefly, or only at very low levels, your risk of a resulting disease is probably low. However, it you were exposed at high levels or for long periods of time, you may be at increased risk of certain cancers or the other diseases.”

Usually, if you have only had a brief exposure, there will be nothing to worry about. However, if you also smoke, or there are other risk factors at play, your physician may want to book you in for more regular tests. Because conditions like mesothelioma take such a long time to develop and are often not caught until they are in very advanced stages, having regular checkups if there is a risk of you developing it may just save your life in the long run.