Health problems related to asbestos exposure are not limited to mesothelioma, asbestosis, and certain other abdominal cancers. As research into the damaging effects of asbestos exposure continues, consequences of inhaling asbestos over long periods of time are emerging that may demonstrate that the illnesses that result from extended asbestos exposure may be more dire and more numerous than previously understood.
A new study carried out by Dr. Rachel Ben-Shlomo and Dr. Uri Shanas of the University of Haifa’s Department of Biology has shown that mice in Nahariya, an Israeli town known for its high concentration of asbestos-contaminated dust, are more likely to have a higher numbers of genetic somatic mutations. These are genetic mutations that occur in cells and can cause cancer or other diseases. Mice in similar regions with lower levels of asbestos pollution do not show the same elevated mutation levels at the gene level.
According to Drs. Ben-Shlomo and Shanas, the study indicates a clear link between environmental levels of asbestos and genetic somatic mutations in mammals. They chose Nahariya because data from the Israeli Ministry of Health have indicated an increase in the number of cancer diagnoses due to asbestos exposure in the Western Galilee region of northern Israel, where Nahariya is located. Mice were the subject of the study because mice breed quickly and it could be assumed that numerous generations had been exposed to asbestos.
The findings of this study correlate with earlier studies that have demonstrated that asbestos fibers, either inhaled or ingested via contaminated food, cause certain cancers and genetic mutation of DNA structures in human beings and other mammals. Especially when viewed in the context of the larger body of studies concerned with asbestos exposure, the findings of Drs. Ben-Shlomo and Shanas make it clear that science has not yet found all of the negative health effects caused by exposure to asbestos.