Asbestos health risks

Significant health risks may arise from the inhalation of airborne asbestos fibres.

If asbestos is disturbed it can release dangerous fine particles of dust containing asbestos fibres which can cause illness when inhaled.

Asbestos diseases


Asbestosis is a chronic chest disease caused by inhalation of high concentrations of asbestos fibres. The condition can develop 10 to 20 years after initial exposure. Asbestos fibres initially damage cell membranes in the lungs and, as a result, the lung tissue becomes hardened and scars.

Symptoms of asbestosis include shortness of breath after exercise, persistent coughing, chest pain, phlegm, lung infections, pulmonary hypertension and heart failure.

Early abnormalities of asbestosis are difficult to detect in a lung X-ray, however, as the disease progresses the X-ray is characterised by a cloudy, ground glass appearance.

Lung cancer

Lung cancer of the bronchial tubes, lungs and alveoli can develop after exposure to asbestos. Those who have been exposed to asbestos and who have smoked run a much greater risk of getting lung cancer.

Symptoms of lung cancer include an irritative cough with increasing sputum, followed by blood-tinged sputum, coughing up blood, chest pains and chest infections.


Mesothelioma is a cancer of the lung lining. It can result from low-level exposure to asbestos and can take 30 to 45 years to develop after initial exposure. It is an aggressive and painful cancer, and sufferers rarely live longer than 12 to 18 months.

A dull, aching chest pain and shortness of breath are the early symptoms, followed by abdominal pain, abdominal swelling and loss of weight.

Pleural disease

Inflammation and irritation of outer lining of the lung, the pleura. The pleura stiffens and thickens widely (diffused thickening) or in patches (plaques) and can fill with fluid. This thickening can restrict breathing.

Visit NSW Health for more information on asbestos and health risks.

Health monitoring

Before removing asbestos, you must arrange and pay for health monitoring by a medical practitioner for all asbestos removal workers or workers who may be exposed to asbestos during the removal process.

The monitoring will identify any changes in a person's health because of exposure to asbestos.

All health records must be kept for 40 years and the worker must receive a copy of the report. You will need to notify us of any changes to a workers health.

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