The Impact of Asbestos on Human Health and the Environment

Once an incredibly common construction material used in the Australian commercial and residential building industries for most of the 20th century, asbestos has since revealed itself to be a silent killer which can have a devastating impact on both the environment and human health. This week, we examine just what those impacts are.

Health impacts

Asbestos is best known for creating lung and respiratory problems which are caused by the inhalation of tiny asbestos fibres which then settle in the lungs and irritate the tissue. The three most common diseases related to asbestos exposure include:

Asbestosis: This condition is characterised by a scarring of the lungs caused by the asbestos fibres, which makes breathing difficult.

Mesothelioma: A rare form of cancer almost exclusively associated with asbestos exposure, mesothelioma can affect the lungs, chest, abdomen and heart. Mesothelioma takes between 20-50 years to appear after exposure.

Lung cancer: Asbestos has also been attributed to other types of lung cancer where tumours grow and eventually obstruct the airways.

Some of the other diseases associated with asbestos exposure include gastrointestinal disease, pleural plaques, pleural thickening, pleural effusion, laryngeal cancer, ovarian cancer and testicular cancer.

Ecological impacts

Although often overlooked, asbestos can cause significant environmental problems which can be extremely hard to remediate. Due to their microscopic size (fibres often can’t be seen by the naked eye and even some microscopes can’t pick them up) when asbestos fibres are released into the environment they often cannot be seen. When asbestos is released into the environment, it contaminates the air and can travel incredibly long distances before settling in water or soil, causing contamination. Asbestos doesn’t biodegrade and doesn’t usually sink into the soil, meaning it can easily be disturbed and become airborne again. Remediating asbestos once it is released into the environment is virtually impossible, given the distances it can travel and the difficulties associated with identifying it. Because of this, everyone is exposed to some level of asbestos in the air we breathe, with higher levels in cities and industrial areas


Alpha Environmental offers asbestos testing and management solutions for businesses, local councils and residents in Melbourne. To learn more about our capabilities, please don’t hesitate to get in touch with us by calling 1300 039 181