COPD is Not Caused by Asbestos

COPD is Not Caused by Asbestos

As early as the 1920s, companies that used asbestos in their manufacturing operations or building processes were aware that their employees were being diagnosed with high rates of lung disease. However, to keep from admitting any liability, they insisted that the employee’s lung disease was caused by cigarette smoking.

Asbestos is a naturally formed mineral. When mined and crushed, it produces silky fibers that could be incorporated into products and textiles to provide strength, heat resistance, corrosion resistance, and soundproofing.

Asbestos was so prized for its properties that companies used it to insulate electrical wiring, line brakes, clutch facings, and insulate pipes. They also incorporated asbestos into building products such as floor and ceiling tile, shingles, siding, plaster, and textured paints.

Dangers of Asbestos Exposure
In 1964, Irving Selikoff, a New York epidemiologist, published his analysis of the death certificates of hundreds of Asbestos Workers’ Union members, revealing that asbestos inhalation was causing lung disease.

Under a microscope, asbestos fibers are narrow and rigid. During the mining, processing, installation, or removal of asbestos, the fibers become airborne and can be inhaled by anyone in proximity. Studies show that after inhalation, the asbestos fibers penetrate the lining of the lungs and embed themselves in the cells of the lining. As the body tries to expel the fibers, scar tissue forms around them, leading to the deterioration of the lungs and breathing functions.

Illnesses Caused by Asbestos Exposure

  • Asbestosis – Asbestosis is a chronic lung disease which scars the lungs and is caused by inhaling asbestos fibers.
  • Mesothelioma – Mesothelioma is a malignant cancerous tumor caused by inhaled asbestos fibers and forms in the lining of the lungs, abdomen, or heart. Mesothelioma is an aggressive, incurable cancer with an average life expectancy of 14 to 22 months. Treatments may slow the progression and improve the symptoms of mesothelioma.
  • Lung Cancer – Lung cancer may be caused by asbestos but is more commonly caused by smoking and environmental exposure.

What is COPD?
Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease is a chronic inflammatory lung disease that causes obstructed airflow. It’s caused by exposure to irritating gas, and most often from cigarette smoke.

Signs and symptoms of COPD may include:

  • Shortness of breath, especially during physical activities
  • Wheezing
  • Chest tightness
  • A chronic cough which may produce mucus that may be clear, white, yellow, or greenish
  • Frequent respiratory infections
  • Lack of energy
  • Unintended weight loss (in later stages)
  • Swelling in ankles, , or legs

Although COPD is a progressive, incurable disease that gets worse over time, COPD treatments can slow the disease’s progression and control the symptoms. There is no average life expectancy of a person with COPD. With proper management, a person with COPD can survive anywhere from 12 to 20 years.

Due to the similarity of symptoms of asbestos-related lung disorders and its incurable nature, COPD has often been thought to be caused by asbestos exposure. COPD is a blanket term for two respiratory issues, emphysema and chronic bronchitis. People with an asbestos-related disease such as asbestosis or mesothelioma often have COPD.  However, COPD has not been definitively clonked to asbestos exposure.

Tobacco smoke contains many chemicals, including almost 70 that are proven to be cancer causing. These cancer-causing chemicals are referred to as carcinogens. Some chemicals contained in tobacco smoke include:

  • Nicotine
  • Hydrogen cyanide
  • Formaldehyde
  • Lead
  • Arsenic
  • Ammonia
  • Radioactive elements, such as polonium-210 (see below)
  • Benzene
  • Carbon monoxide
  • Tobacco-specific nitrosamines (TSNAs)
  • Polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs)

People who worked with asbestos who smoke are at increased risk for developing COPD and lung cancer. If you or someone you love is diagnosed with COPD from asbestos please contact Goldberg Persky and White P.C. today.



“Earliest known facts about Asbestos.” The University of Montana National Rural Bioethics Project. [Link]
“Learn About Asbestos” EPA [Link]
“Environmental Medicine: Integrating a Missing Element into Medical Education. Case Study 3: Asbestos Toxicity.” The National Academies of Sciences, Engineering & Medicine (1995) [Link]
“COPD Overview” The Mayo Clinic. [Link]
“Harmful Chemicals in Tobacco Products” The American Cancer Society. [Link]

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