Annex - Factsheet on Health Impact of Asbestos Exposure
- What is asbestos?
Asbestos is a naturally-occurring mineral. Asbestos fibres have physical and chemical properties which made them popular as construction materials in the past, where they were used for fireproofing, thermal, electrical or sound insulation.
The use of asbestos in building materials has been banned in Singapore since 1989 due to concerns about their health risks.
Asbestos materials are unlikely to pose any health risk to occupants as long as the asbestos materials remain in good condition and are not disturbed. The risk from asbestos arises only when it is damaged and/or disturbed, resulting in asbestos fibres being released into the air that can be potentially inhaled
- What is the risk of getting asbestos-related disease if I have been exposed to asbestos?
The health impact of asbestos generally increases with frequency, duration and level of exposure to asbestos.
Asbestos-related diseases occur mainly in people with many years of continued exposure to high levels of asbestos, and this is commonly work-related. This is why we ensure that asbestos-removal workers are trained, competent and protected in the course of doing removal works, so as to reduce the risk of developing asbestos-related diseases.
For other persons with incidental exposure, the risk of developing asbestos-related diseases is low.
- What are the health risks of years of continued exposure to high levels of asbestos?
Asbestos-related diseases such as asbestosis occur mainly in people with many years of continued exposure to high levels of asbestos, and this is commonly work-related. The risk of developing an asbestos-related disease for persons with incidental exposure is low.
Asbestos fibres when inhaled as airborne dust can cause diseases such as asbestosis, mesothelioma and lung cancer.
Asbestosis is a disease where scarring of the lung tissue leads to decreased lung volume and increased resistance in the airways. It is normally associated with damage from high levels of exposure over many years. Symptoms may include breathlessness, persistent coughing, tiredness and nausea.
Mesothelioma is a cancer of the lining of the lungs and abdominal organs. High levels of exposure to asbestos over many years is sometimes identified as a cause for this disease. Symptoms may include breathlessness, pain over the chest wall or fluid accumulation in the lining of the lungs.
Lung cancer can be caused by a number of inhaled carcinogens, including asbestos. Symptoms include chronic cough, breathlessness, chest pain and coughing up blood.