If you are wondering how long you can be exposed to asbestos before it becomes harmful, the truth is that there is no "safe" level of asbestos exposure. Asbestos can cause cancer and chronic respiratory diseases after any asbestos fibers are inhaled or ingested. Generally, these diseases take a long time to develop after exposure, with symptoms appearing anywhere between 10 to 80 years later.
Asbestos Exposure Can Happen Anywhere
Most people have been exposed to relatively lower levels of asbestos fibers at some point during in their lifetimes, typically from the asbestos contamination in the outside ambient air and inside background air that we breathe. In addition, people who are exposed to relatively higher amounts of asbestos fibers from their work, construction projects, hobbies, or coming into contact with someone else who has been occupationally exposed to asbestos have a more increased risk of developing an asbestos-related disease. Each exposure from any source in any amount contributes to your total lifetime dose of asbestos, which increases your risk for developing an asbestos-related disease such as mesothelioma, asbestosis, lung cancer, and other cancers.
Asbestos Exposure in Work Settings Leads to Higher Risk
Studies of workers exposed to asbestos in occupational settings suggest that not all people exposed to the same doses of asbestos are affected equally. An individual's susceptibility to developing an asbestos-related disease is likely determined by a number of factors including genetics, smoking history, and timing of initial exposures. Government agencies like the Occupational Safety and Health Administration have established regulations imposing a duty on employers to keep total occupational asbestos levels within a workplace below an eight-hour time-weighted average for each day. The current OSHA PEL is .01 f/cc. However, these regulations do not establish safe levels for asbestos exposure. They are only designed to reduce risk for workers and explicitly state that they expect to find excess cancer even below that level and that there is minimum safe threshold level.
If Exposed to Asbestos, What Should You Do?
Exposure to asbestos does increase your risk of developing an asbestos-related disease, but it does not guarantee that you will develop one. However, all asbestos exposures should be deemed as potentially harmful. If you were exposed to asbestos, it is important to tell your doctor if you start to experience symptoms such as shortness of breath, coughing, or pain in the chest. Individuals diagnosed with mesothelioma or other asbestos-related diseases should contact an experienced attorney right away to file a claim.