Asbestos and Asbestosis, two very similar words with two very different meanings. Many people, including those in the medical profession, can sometimes confuse the terms and use them interchangeably.
What is Asbestos?
Asbestos is a set of six naturally occurring silicate minerals which have been used widely in many sorts of construction and manufacturing over many decades. Asbestos mining began more than 4,000 years ago, although it started on a large-scale basis towards the end of the 19th century.
The mineral was considered to have many beneficial properties including being fire and heat resistant, relatively cheap and excellent as an electrical insulator. The fact that it was in plentiful supply and useful for so many needs meant that it became increasingly used throughout most of the 20th Century.Use of the material is now banned in the UK and in many other countries, however, it is said that the figures from 2009 showed that around 2 million tons of asbestos were still mined per year mainly in Russia, China, Brazil, Kazakhstan and Canada.
What is Asbestosis?
Asbestosis, or asbestos related fibrosis, is a lung condition caused by excessive exposure to asbestos. Asbestosis is defined as a non-cancerous fibrous hardening and scarring of the lungs. The effects of the fibrosis on the lungs cause breathing difficulties for the sufferer especially on exertion. The condition is usually detected by way of a chest x-ray or CT scan. A patient may also undergo lung function tests to assess the capacity of the lungs and whether there has been any restriction. There is, unfortunately, no cure for asbestosis but physiotherapy and provision of oxygen can be used to help alleviate symptoms.
How long until I notice symptoms of Asbestosis?
The latency period for asbestosis, that is to say the period between exposure to asbestos and the development of symptoms associated with asbestosis, is generally between 20 and 30 years. Given that workers are no longer exposed to asbestos in the quantities that they were previously, it is thought that the vast majority of people who will ever be diagnosed with asbestosis will have been diagnosed already. The kind of heavy exposure to asbestos required to cause asbestosis ceased in approximately the 1970’s. However, it is possible that people who have been suffering with symptoms of asbestosis for a number of years might not yet have been diagnosed and we still see from time to time clients who have been diagnosed with this condition.
Claiming for asbestosis
When considering claims for asbestosis we have to consider in detail the extent of the exposure that you have experienced. A full and detailed work history will be taken detailing how and to what extent you were exposed to asbestos. We also take a full and detailed medical history including a thorough review of medical records. We have to be aware of non-asbestos related fibrosis or idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis which might be confused with asbestosis if it occurs on a background of asbestos exposure.
If a sufferer of fibrosis suffers a quick deterioration in health it is unlikely to be asbestosis. Asbestosis is generally a slowly progressive condition. As discussed above, there also needs to have been heavy exposure to asbestos, for example involvement with lagging or de-lagging of asbestos. Such exposure after the 1970’s is unlikely hence the incidence of asbestosis diagnoses is less than it previously was.
Helena Cameron of Asbestos Justice recently acted for a client who had developed asbestosis as a result of his exposure to asbestos whilst working for several engineering companies. Mr. W was employed as a plumber and was exposed to asbestos on a frequent basis as he carried out work in commercial premises including schools and hospitals.
His work involved him using preformed asbestos lagging for pipes and boilers. He was exposed to significant quantities of asbestos over a period of approximately 20 years. His employers failed to provide him with a mask or any breathing equipment and so he inevitably inhaled large quantities of asbestos dust and fibres.
Approximately 30 years after he was last exposed to asbestos, Mr. W began to suffer with breathing difficulties and developed a chest infection. He was referred for a chest x-ray and CT scan and a diagnosis of asbestosis was made. He was advised by the Consultant to seek legal advice in relation to a claim for compensation.
We successfully pursued a claim against three of his previous employers and a settlement in the sum of £39,000 was agreed. The terms of the provisional settlement allow Mr. W. to return for further compensation in the future should his condition deteriorate or in the event that he develops mesothelioma or asbestos related lung cancer.
If you or a family member have concerns over asbestos exposure, contact Asbestos Justice on 0800 038 6767 for expert legal advice.