Who needs to be examined?

Individuals who have been exposed (or suspect they have been exposed) to asbestos fibers on the job or at home via a family contact should inform their physician of their exposure history and any symptoms. Asbestos fibers can be measured in urine, feces, mucus, or material rinsed out of the lungs. A thorough physical examination, including a chest x-ray and lung function tests, may be recommended. It is important to note that chest x-rays cannot detect asbestos fibers in the lungs, but they can help identify any lung changes resulting from asbestos exposure. Interpretation of the chest x-ray may require the help of a specialist who is experienced in reading x-rays for asbestos-related diseases. Other tests also may be necessary.

The most common types of friable asbestos that inspectors are concerned with are sheet insulation used as a fire barrier around heating plants in older buildings, pipe insulation on older hydronic boilers, and insulation on older ductwork.

Sprayed-on ceiling asbestos — This was common in the 1960s and earlier. This material can be very hazardous. The popcorn ceilings on the west coast, mostly in California, are typically made from an asbestos-containing material. The popcorn ceilings in the Midwest and on the East coast typically do not contain asbestos.

Removal of asbestos — Asbestos should be removed and disposed of by a qualified contractor. Most states maintain lists of qualified contractors. Contact the EPA or the state department of environmental protection for an updated list of qualified testing and or mitigation contractors. It is not recommended that homeowners remove the asbestos themselves due to the associated health risk. Subsequent to any remediation, an air test should be performed to ensure that no fibers remain.

As noted earlier, the symptoms of asbestos-related diseases may not become apparent for many decades after exposure. If any of the following symptoms develop, a physical examination should be scheduled without delay:

  • Shortness of breath;
  • A cough or a change in cough pattern;
  • Blood in the sputum (fluid) coughed up from the lungs;
  • Pain in the chest or abdomen;
  • Difficulty in swallowing or prolonged hoarseness; and/or
  • Significant weight loss.

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Sources of National Cancer Institute Information

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