Health Dangers Of Asbestos
Learn About Asbestos and The Dangers Of Exposure
What is asbestos?
Asbestos is a term given to a cluster of fibrous silicate minerals which naturally exist in the environment. Asbestos was mined and used extensively globally for many decades. This is because of its unique qualities such as incredible tensile strength, chemical inertness, flexibility, insulation, and affordability.
Additionally, it is the only naturally-occurring mineral which can be spun and woven like wool into other important fabrics. All these characteristics made it a very familiar and an outstanding product in many industries, especially construction sector. The three types of asbestos that are very common and which were used in a wide range of applications includes:
- Amosite, also known as gray or brown asbestos.
- Crocidolite or blue asbestos.
- Chrysotile or white asbestos.
Crocidolite is believed to cause the most severe harm. This is because it consists of relatively thin and longer fibers, and are, therefore more likely to reach your lungs faster.
In Australia, cement materials having asbestos were first produced in the early 1920s and were mainly used in the construction of residential buildings between the mid-1940’s up to late 1980’s.
The human exposure to asbestos is closely associated to the development of severe respiratory conditions as well as cancers, including lung cancer, mesothelioma, and asbestosis. Being in contact with asbestos materials is commonly related to secondary, environmental and occupational factors.
For nearly a hundred years, asbestos was exclusively and extensively used in many industries including manufacturing, construction and in shipbuilding. The full range of asbestos applications in industries is because it was viewed as the most versatile material due to its incredible tensile strength, flexibility, chemical inertness, insulation from electricity and heat as well as affordability.
The versatility of asbestos made it extremely attractive to most industries and is believed to have more than three thousand applications globally. Interestingly, Australia -was among the highest users per capita in the world up until the late 1980s.
Approximately, more than a third of all homes built in Australia contain asbestos products. This widespread application of asbestos has only left a deadly legacy of this material. Some of the products historically known to contain asbestos include:
- Asbestos cement.
- Wall panels.
- Floor tiles.
- Ceiling tiles.
- Electrical insulation.
- Attic and wall insulation.
- Boiler insulation.
- Spray-on fireproofing.
- Wallboard joint compound.
- Sheds and car-pots.
- Vinyl sheet flooring.
- Capping and roof sheeting.
Do new construction materials have elements of asbestos?
It is imperative to note that since 31 December 2003, asbestos as well as all the products containing it have been banned throughout Australia. The law prohibits the importation, storage, supply, the sale, use or re-use and the installation of these harmful materials. However, the ban does not apply to asbestos installed before this date.
How can asbestos affect your overall health?
Your exposure to this compound can potentially result in the development of severe health conditions such as lung cancer, mesothelioma, and asbestosis. Even though there are other potential health effects of asbestos, arguably, these are the most common effects.
The other health issues which can potentially occur as a result of your exposure to asbestos includes, cancer of the colon, digestive tract, esophagus, kidney and even certain types of lymphoma. The fibers which form asbestos typically separate very easily into tiny pieces when they are either disrupted or handled.
They are microscopic in nature, and you’ll quickly inhale the particles without your knowledge. When inhaled, these asbestos fibers are deposited on the cells as well as the air passages which make up the lungs. They build up in your lungs, leading to the occurrence of severe respiratory damage.
If you inhale these asbestos fibers for extended periods, you significantly increase your risk for asbestosis, mesothelioma and lung cancer. A recent study revealed that if you are an ardent cigar smoker; you will be affected more. Why? This is because the smoke resulting from cigarette typically irritate your lung passages. As a result, this makes it extremely hard for your lungs to eliminate asbestos fibers.
While breathing in asbestos is not likely to lead to any immediate harm, asbestos-related cancers and other conditions frequently arise many years after your first exposure. This gap between the exposure and the appearance of first symptoms, known as the latency period, may range between ten to fifteen years.
How can you become exposed to asbestos?
It is critical to note that we are all exposed to low levels of asbestos present in the air we inhale, on a daily basis. Background or ambient air usually contains between ten to two hundred asbestos fibers in every one thousand liters of air.
However, it is very rare to contract an asbestos-related disease from this level of exposure. Certain activities may intermittently raise the number of fibers in the atmosphere. For exposures in and around your home, the most typical of such events is perhaps the demolition or renovation of asbestos sheeting.
It is, therefore, essential to strictly adhere to your federal or state safety regulation requirements regarding the removal as well as the disposal of the asbestos materials so as to reduce the health risks significantly.
We might potentially get affected by an asbestos-related condition even without being closer to the toxic asbestos mineral. In fact, indirect exposure might just be as harmful as first-hand exposure.
Even though any exposure is extremely less common in our current society , our female counterparts experienced an increased risk of secondary exposure, especially when the use of asbestos was higher during the mid-twentieth century.
To be more precise, during this period, a significant number of the working class comprised of men. The occupations inside these industrial settings required employees to constantly operate, handle and come into contact with items containing this dangerous mineral.
After spending lots of time on the job site, these individuals normally carried with them the asbestos fibers on their clothes, skin, and hair, thus creating a secondary vulnerability risk to their families.
Even though secondary exposure may seem insignificant, the cases are enough to cause some of the related diseases.
So who is at the greatest risk?
There are several risk factors which can determine how exposure can affect your health. These factors include:
- Individual risk factors such as a pre-existing lung condition and smoking.
- Dosage; how much asbestos you may have handled.
- The shape, size and the chemical makeup of the fibers of the asbestos.
- The time at which one has been into contact with these asbestos fibers.
Despite strict regulations being imposed on the use of asbestos and abatement procedures, individual exposure still continues to be a huge issue in Australia. In fact, minimizing environmental exposure continues to be a daunting task, particularly in areas with high concentrations of asbestos elements which occur naturally.
The risk of developing asbestos-related health conditions increases with the number of asbestos fibers you are exposed after a particular period. Those who used to work in the asbestos processing or mining industries were exposed to typically higher levels of asbestos, many thousands of times than those in normal background levels.
In fact, this is why many asbestos diseases are common among the former asbestos workers. Asbestos-related health problems have resulted in the deaths of thousands of Australians. Australia has witnessed the highest asbestos-relate deaths globally. Studies continue to reveal that currently, over five-hundred men and at least a hundred women develop mesothelioma annually in Australia.
Household exposure is still a problem mainly because numerous construction products contain asbestos. This is typically true of structures built before the 1980s when the use of this dangerous material was more common.
Household products which might contain asbestos are insulation, ceiling tiles, floor tiles, cement, drywall, and construction items. According to recent studies, these elements pose no significant risk unless they are either cut or damaged.
After an asbestos-containing item gets damaged, the fibers from the asbestos can enter the air where you can easily inhale or ingest them. This only implies that you should try to avoid taking part in any demolition or remodeling projects until a certified professional inspector confirms that there is no asbestos.
However, if asbestos is found, adequate and proper abatement procedures should be strictly followed, to ensure the safety of every individual in the locality. Asbestos is so common that we have all possibly been around it at some point. It is present in the air, soil, and water. However, when we are exposed to such low levels, it is unlikely to make us sick.
What are the types of health problems associated with asbestos?
There are some health conditions which may result from long-term exposure. Now let us examine some of these health problems.
This is a progressive and a chronic disease of the lung caused by inhaling the fibers of asbestos over an extended period. The accumulated, ingested asbestos usually produce scarring to the lung of the affected individual. Your lung will assume a honeycomb appearance after infection. The scar tissue becomes hard and inflexible, making your lungs to stiffen and will eventually stop function properly.
This condition causes tightness in the chest, breathlessness, chronic coughing and also, your skin might develop a bluish tinge, mainly as a result of lack of sufficient oxygen. The condition often worsens as time goes. As at now, there is no proven cure for asbestosis, and it leads to respiratory failure and finally death. People who smoke are at a relatively higher risk of getting asbestosis compared to those who don’t.
The asbestosis outlook varies significantly, and this primarily depends on the extent of damage to the lungs on the affected person. The condition gets worse as time goes and will place an enormous strain on your health, shortening your life expectancy.
Studies have proven that asbestosis increases your risk of contracting other severe and potentially life-threatening health conditions including mesothelioma, lung cancer, and pleural disease. In fact, more asbestosis patients typically die as a result of the conditions mentioned above, and not from asbestosis itself.
Because of the continued exposure to large amounts of asbestos fibers, one can easily get lung cancer. Again, the risk is significantly greater among people who smoke frequently. The tumor, if not treated early, can rapidly spread to your lungs and eventually to other body parts. The most common symptom you’ll notice is persistent coughing. On most occasions, it will take between ten to twenty years for you to develop lung cancer after the exposure to asbestos.
This type of cancer is a deadly one, perhaps made even worse by the fact that it has no cure. Every year, there are more than thirty thousand new lung cancer cases globally, and a significant number of these cases are attributed to occupational exposures to asbestos. In 2014, lung cancer was the leading cause of cancer-related fatalities in Australia. It is projected that it will remain the primary cause of cancer deaths. Source: .
Lung cancer occurs when the cells in your lungs start to grow uncontrollably, forming a tumor. These infected cells will then destroy the healthy tissues in your lungs, and this will eventually make your lungs to stop functioning properly.
Individuals who have either worked or work with and around asbestos are more likely to die from lung cancer. When you disturb any product containing asbestos, it releases the microscopic fibers into the air.
You can easily inhale these asbestos fibers and they’ll get trapped in your lungs, thus causing critical health issues such as lung cancer. Simply put, the more you are exposed to asbestos, the higher the risk of you developing lung cancer.
Most asbestos lung cancer cases occur at least twenty years after the first contact with asbestos. Just like asbestosis, this type of cancer has a long latency period, and this implies that it will take lots of time after your first exposure to asbestos before the symptoms may start to show.
Australian doctors diagnose an approximated three thousand cases of mesothelioma in Australia annually. According to Safe Work Australia, there has been close to ten-thousand mesothelioma fatalities since the early 1980s.
A significant number of these are attributed to exposures to asbestos. Most patients normally have the pleural type, which forms on the lining of the lungs. However, cancer can also develop around the lining of the heart or abdomen. Sadly, the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare projects that between 2014 and 2021, the nation will witness up to eighteen thousand mesothelioma cases.
This condition usually develops after coming into contact with asbestos in areas such as shipyards, old houses, auto repair shops, industrial settings and public buildings. While it will take a long-term exposure to put you at risk, short-term as well as one-time exposure are equally known to cause mesothelioma. There are different types of mesothelioma, including pleural, peritoneal and pericardial mesothelioma.
Pleural type is perhaps the most common type of the diseases and represents nearly seventy-five percent of all diagnosis. Peritoneal is placed second and accounts for between ten to twenty-five percent of diagnosis.
On the other hand, one per cent of cases occur due to the pericardial type. Though very rare, testicular mesothelioma represents less than one percent of all the cases. Pleural mesothelioma forms on the lining of the lungs and initial symptoms may include shortness of breath and regular chest pains.
Peritoneal affects the linings of the abdominal cavity and may respond best to a combination of heated chemotherapy and surgery. Finally, pericardial emerges from the heart lining and is the most difficult to treat because of its sensitive location.
How can you protect yourself from the exposure?
If you are convinced that something in your home contains asbestos, it is advisable that you seek the help of professionals to treat it. Products containing asbestos which are in good condition pose no health risk unless they get damaged. However, once asbestos-containing items are disturbed, the fibers will enter the air and become ingested or inhaled.
It is highly advisable that we should never start any remodeling or demolition project until we are confident it will not trigger the release of particles into the air. Unless an item is clearly labeled, it will not be easy to tell with your naked eyes if it has asbestos.
This implies that you must hire a qualified and a professional asbestos inspector to examine the samples. If the tests confirm the presence of this hazardous material, proper abatement safety procedures must be followed so as to ensure that the security of every individual is not compromised.
During the renovation or maintenance projects in your home, limit the children from accessing potentially dangerous zones. Again, you should avoid any activity that might trigger harmful exposures such as sawing, drilling, scraping or cutting.
Can you find assistance in Australia?
When the issue relates to a workplace incident, you’ll have to contact the work health and safety regulator in your territory. If the problem is related to the environmental contamination, the transportation, and disposal of asbestos, you should call the Environmental Agency for Protection in your locality. Finally, if you are dealing with non-work related issues including a neighbor handling asbestos, call your local council.
Due to the health risks associated with asbestos materials, the Australia’s Work Health Safety Regulations outlined the competency and training requirements for asbestos assessors, supervisors and asbestos removal workers.
Under these provisions, two licenses have been established; class B and A. Businesses with a class A license are allowed to handle all types of asbestos, including the non-friable and friable asbestos.
On the other hand, those with a class B license can only eliminate non-friable asbestos. These are the types of professionals you can always call for assistance relating to the removal of asbestos-materials.
The Bottom Line.
Asbestos materials gained lots of popularity some time back due to the numerous advantages it was deemed to offer. As such, it was widely used in construction and industries for a broad range of applications.
However, nearly twenty years ago, extensive studies clinical trials and have proven that this material is potentially harmful, especially when exposed to the air, and can cause a number of health problems.
Today, in many countries, the application of asbestos is either heavily regulated or banned altogether. Due to its toxic and carcinogenic characteristics, the International Labor Organization as well as the World Health Organization are strongly against its use.
Hopefully, we have discussed in excruciating detail, all that you needed to know regarding asbestos. Hope you have enhanced your knowledge significantly.