Short-term exposure to asbestos is classified as any incident lasting a few days or less. In general, these short-term exposure events represent low risks, except in extreme cases like the toxic exposure caused by the terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001.
The Degrees of Asbestos Exposure
Every year, thousands of Americans die from diseases related to asbestos exposure. In 2016 alone, past exposure to asbestos resulted in the deaths of nearly 40,000 people across the country, according to the International Commission of Occupational Health.
With that in mind, it's critical that you're aware of how asbestos exposure can impact your life now and in the future. If you know you have been exposed, it's reasonable to worry, but it's important to discern the degree of exposure, too.
Short-term, light exposure to asbestos rarely leads to disease.
One-time exposure from do-it-yourself renovation work is not considered a major risk.
Exposure to asbestos is cumulative, so multiple short-term exposure incidents will add up.
Disasters can lead to extreme short-term asbestos exposure, which is more harmful.
What Makes Asbestos Dangerous?
Asbestos has a deadly reputation for good reason, but many people don't fully understand why this toxic mineral is dangerous. Some think that asbestos is a chemical able to accumulate in the food chain or even get absorbed into your skin as some pesticides do. Others fear that they can get sick just by being near a product that contains asbestos, as it it were radioactive.
The truth is, asbestos is only hazardous when its dust is inhaled or swallowed. When dormant and managed properly, there is hardly risk associated with being in its presence.Additionally, asbestos is not a chemical, but rather a naturally-occurring mineral.
How Bad Is One-Time Exposure to Asbestos?
While no amount of exposure to asbestos is considered "safe," inhaling the toxic dust is the most dangerous thing you can do.
When diseases develop as a result of asbestos exposure, it usually comes after millions of microscopic mineral fibers have accumulated over time in the lungs or the body's membrane lining.
Generally, one-time exposure does not represent a serious risk, although rare circumstances where toxic dust clouds form in the air can lead to extreme risks. Otherwise, diseases relating to asbestos exposure typically develop through months or even years of workplace exposure.
If you were only exposed for one day, your risk will depend on how much toxic dust you inhaled. Consider:
Did the product containing asbestos crumble or was it damaged in any way?
Was the product smashed, drilled, sawed, or scraped?
Was the area you were working in poorly ventilated?
If you answer "yes" to any of these questions and proper safety precautions were not taken, you likely inhaled significant amounts of asbestos dust -- but don't panic. The exposure will not immediately impact your health. If it does end up impacting you, it will take years for symptoms to start showing.
For this reason, you should reach out to your doctor right away and make them aware of this event so that they can note it in your medical history. Additionally, you should be careful to avoid additional exposure to asbestos as it will have a cumulative effect.