Did you know that around 5000 deaths every year are attributed to asbestos exposure?
Asbestos has long been recognised for being hazardous, and since then its use has been banned.
However the exposure that a person was subjected to even years ago, can still be life threatening.
Moreover, asbestos may still be present in certain environments due to the fact that buildings which were constructed during the 1900’s may have utilised this material in various ways.
Hence, people who are commonly at risk include builders, roofing contractors, carpenters and joiners.
What is Asbestos?
Asbestos was predominantly used as a building material since it is a naturally-occurring fibrous mineral.
In fact, as well as being a strong substance, it is heat resistant and sound absorbent, making it an ideal building material if it were not hazardous.
Modern homes and buildings erected since the turn of the century will rarely ever contain asbestos in the structures.
However, many properties built during the 20th century contained high levels of asbestos materials, which required removal and disposal.
Asbestos is composed of several minerals, which belong to the serpentine and the amphibole families.
While some types of asbestos are not as hazardous as others, it is a fact that all asbestos is considered dangerous.
Asbestos has in fact been classified as containing cancer-causing substances as well as being conducive to other serious diseases.
People who are exposed to asbestos may suffer from lung cancer, ovarian cancer, malignant mesothelioma and laryngeal cancer, among others.
Why is Asbestos Hazardous?
When materials which contain asbestos are either disturbed or damaged, the result leads to fibres being released into the air.
If someone nearby inhales these fibres, serious diseases can result.
The effect is also not immediate, so once someone is diagnosed with an asbestos related illness, there is generally not much that can be done.
Asbestos can cause a series of serious diseases, most of which have a high mortality rate.
This is a form of cancer that affects the lining of the lungs and the lining that surrounds the lower digestive tract. This cancer is almost certainly caused by asbestos exposure, and in most cases it is fatal.
This is a condition that involves scarring of the lungs. It results after heavy exposure to asbestos. Over time, progressive shortness of breath is caused, and severe cases end up in death.
This is a condition that results after heavy asbestos exposure, whereby the pleura, which is the lining of the lung, thickens and swells. If the condition is very serious, the lung itself will be squeezed, resulting in shortness of breath, chest pain and discomfort.
Is All Asbestos Dangerous?
It is important to start off from one key point – all types of asbestos are dangerous.
Leading health agencies classify all types of asbestos as being cancer causing substances.
There have been some studies which attempted to classify toxicity levels, and it was concluded that the serpentine asbestos category, namely Chrysolite is the worst one in terms of danger to one’s health.
In fact, over the years this type of asbestos accounted for over 95% of usage, and consequently it is responsible for most cases of illness and resulting deaths.
Different Types of Asbestos
There are different types of asbestos which we shall be discussing in further detail below.
These come under the amphibole or the serpentine mineral families.
The only one that falls under the Serpentine category is the Chrysolite type, which is actually the most hazardous and dangerous type.
It has rather curly fibres which are made up of sheets of crystals.
The other five which fall under the Amphibole category have different types of fibres, which are often described as being needle-shaped.
These types are not as dangerous as the Chrysolite type, but they are still hazardous and should be avoided nonetheless.
Chrysotile (White asbestos)
Chrysotile is the most common type of asbestos and it is the reason behind the vast majority of the cases of mesothelioma.
This type of asbestos is often contaminated with traces of tremolite.
Chrysolite is typically fine in its texture, rather curly, and highly flexible.
It is also heat resistant, and so it used to be used extensively for roofing, cement, asphalt, gaskets, boiler seals, and brake pads and linings.
It can also be present in rubber, plastics and some textiles too.
Sadly, buildings that were built several years ago could contain this asbestos in their roofs, ceilings, walls and floors as it used to be widely used back in the middle of the 20th century especially.
Amosite (Brown asbestos)
Amosite is a very strong and highly heat resistant type of asbestos.
It is mined mostly in Africa, and was commonly used for plumbing insulation, electrical insulation, thermal insulation products, gaskets, ceiling tiles and cement sheets, among others.
Amosite asbestos is highly dangerous when compared to other types of asbestos.
According to research it has a comparatively higher risk for cancer.
Crocidolite (Blue asbestos)
Crocidolite is made up of very thin fibres.
As a result, if it is inhaled it will end up being easily lodged in the lungs.
Crocidolite is also highly hazardous because since the fibres are rather brittle and thin, they break down easily, thus resulting in even more exposure.
In fact, it is considered to be the most hazardous type of asbestos that lies under the amphibole family.
Crocidolite was not used that much in commercial products, and one will mostly find it in insulation materials, cement and tiles.
Crocidolite was used widely to insulate steam engines, as well as in pipe insulation and spray-on coatings.
Tremolite fibres are found as a contaminant in chrysotile asbestos.
You will find tremolite fibres in sealants and paints, in insulation and roofing materials, as well as in talc products.
Tremolite can be spun as well as woven into cloth.
It can be in different colours such as white, grey and green.
Actinolite fibres come in different forms.
They are typically dense and compact, as well as brittle and quite fibrous in their form.
They are also found in some paints and sealants, and sometimes in drywall or plasterboard too.
Actinolite expands considerably when it is heated, and so it is a great insulation material.
For this reason, it is commonly found in insulation and structural fire-proofing.
It can also be present in cement, paints, sealants and drywall.
Anthophyllite is made from fibres which are rather long and resemble needles.
As a result, when inhaled they can be highly damaging to the lungs.
The colours range from brown to yellow.
Anthophyllite fibres are found as a contaminant in composite flooring, in cement and insulation materials.
It used to be used in products that contained talc and vermiculite.
While the risk of developing mesothelioma is relatively lower when compared to other forms of asbestos, it is still to be avoided.
Minerals That Might Contain Asbestos
Technically, asbestos is a commercial term that encompasses different minerals.
There is Chrysotile, Amosite, Crocidolite, Anthophyllite, Tremolite and Actinolite.
These six types of asbestos are regulated or banned worldwide.
Moreover, there are other asbestos-like minerals which are not as yet, neither restricted nor regulated.
Winchite, Erionite, Taconite and Richterite are such examples.
These minerals contain asbestiform fibres which can also cause a variety of serious health problems.
There have been cases where other types of mineral resources which naturally occurred also contained a small amount of asbestos within them.
This is because asbestiform minerals naturally occur in various types of geological formations.
The most significant examples of this are talc and vermiculite products.
Talc is used in various products such as crayons, chalk, cosmetics, paint, pharmaceuticals and ceramics, and the talcum powder, which actually gets its name from it.
Vermiculite is a mineral that results following exfoliation.
It is used in insulation and packaging.
How To Tell If Asbestos Is Present
One of the most commonly asked questions when it comes to asbestos is how one can know that they could be exposed to it.
Unfortunately asbestos cannot be seen.
Moreover, it does not have a specific colour, as mentioned earlier.
And to make things worse, it is scentless and cannot be smelt either.
The sad truth is that since asbestos is a fibrous material that comes in so many different forms and colours, it is not easily recognisable at all.
Besides, it is very small.
To give you an idea, it is roughly ten times smaller than the width of your hair!
The only way to verify whether there is asbestos present is by carrying out an asbestos survey.
The only good point about asbestos is that it will only end up releasing the harmful fibres if it is disturbed.
Moreover, it will only cause harm if one inhales it.
While there is surely no denying of how dangerous asbestos exposure is, it is important to note that it is still commonly used in some countries.
If you suspect you have asbestos present in your building, it is important to have a specialist asbestos removals contractor dispose of it.
Indeed, despite the fact that many countries have prohibited the use of asbestos, there are some countries where only regulation exists.
India, China, Indonesia and Russia, are some of these instances where asbestos is still used.
While this may seem as a scientific or technical topic, it is actually a field which should concern us all.
Being aware of what asbestos is, and what it can cause, is something we should all be informed about.
There are in fact specialised doctors who should be consulted in case one is suffering from any symptoms which could pinpoint to mesothelioma.
Unfortunately, apart from the fact that it is practically impossible to know that you were subjected to asbestos exposure, the symptoms are similar to those of common respiratory conditions and problems.
As a result, mesothelioma is sometimes easily misdiagnosed.