Asbestos-Related Health Risks

What makes asbestos dangerous to our health?

When asbestos-containing materials are damaged or disturbed, asbestos fibres become airborne and can then be inhaled.
Asbestos causes and contribute to a range of unpleasant health effects. Although our bodies have a great defence mechanism and can in most cases prevent asbestos fibres getting into our lungs, there is a certain size that presents a high risk. The highest risk fibre lengths are usually between 5 & 10 micrometres in length.

Asbestos fibres are resistant to chemicals. That also makes them bio-persistent, meaning they cannot be broken down inside us and stay in the lungs for long periods, causing damage like a needle. When our body cannot break down foreign materials inside of us, but are still trying to as we go about our lives, this can lead to all sorts of complications.

The main health risks associated with asbestos exposure are:


Mesothelioma is cancer almost exclusively related to asbestos exposure. It affects the external lining of the lung or abdominal cavity and is almost always fatal. It has a long latency period which can be up to 20 to 30 years.


Asbestosis is irreversible scarring and inflammation of the lung tissue. Heavy exposure over many years is a high contributor. It puts stress on your respiratory system. This then goes on to affect other parts of the body such as the heart and the other places oxygen is required to reach.

Lung Cancer

Lung cancer causes abnormal cells to divide in the lungs uncontrollably. The growth of tumours reduces a person’s ability to breathe. Asbestos-related lung cancer is much the same as lung cancer caused by other factors such as smoking. Smoking and working with asbestos leads to a much greater risk of developing asbestos-related lung cancer.

Asbestos Warts or Corns

Benign lesions can be formed around fibres implanted in our skin, these are known as asbestos warts. These are generally round or irregular in shape with rough surfaces and occur in places where asbestos fibres come into contact with skin, most commonly the flexor aspects of the fingers, or the palm of the hand.

Pleural Thickening of the Lung

Pleural thickening is an asbestos-related lung disease where scarring thickens the pleura which is the lining of the lung. It causes chest pain and breathing difficulty as it becomes harder for the lungs to fully expand as needed. It can be a sign of significant asbestos exposure and it is advised that people with asbestos-related pleural thickening seek regular cancer screening as it can lead to mesothelioma. Pleural thickening in an advanced stage can encase the lung completely causing restrictive lung disease meaning a those affected will have to work harder to be able to breathe.

What can you do to minimise exposure to asbestos?

The first step to keeping yourself safe from asbestos exposure is to know where asbestos-containing materials are. This can be done by getting suspected materials tested by an asbestos surveyor. A suitably qualified asbestos surveyor will be able to inform you of the level of risk related to asbestos-containing materials and help you find the best course of action moving forward, whether that be to remove it or manage it safely until it can be removed. 

If you are going to work with or around asbestos, suitable Personal Protective Equipment and Respiratory Protective Equipment should always be worn, and are always an excellent investment for your health.


Fibresafe NZ are a fully qualified and accredited asbestos management company based in New Zealand. We pride ourselves on our expertise in asbestos related matters, as well as our quality of service delivery. We aim to help the nation better their understanding of asbestos, and find solutions to sort their asbestos containing materials until they can be removed in a fair and pragmatic approach.

We’re proud to be accredited by IANZ, to the conformance standard ISO/IEC 17020:2012 for surveying and sampling

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