Asbestos is a natural material made up of tiny, fiber-like crystals. These crystals can break down into even smaller fibers that can become airborne when the material is damaged or disturbed. This material is a good electrical insulator and has high thermal conductivity, hence it was commonly utilized as a construction material for a long time.
However, asbestos is also a well-known health and safety danger and because of this, its use as a building material is now restricted in many nations. Asbestos fibers can cause several serious lung disorders, including asbestosis and cancer, when inhaled.
Explaining Asbestos, It’s Usage, Risks and Removal
Even with the dangers of asbestos-related diseases, the product has been frequently utilized around the world, and asbestos is considered to be incorporated in most structures built before the 1980s. Many developing countries continue to encourage asbestos use as a building material, and asbestos mining continues. The leading producer Russia was estimated to have produce 790,000 tons of Asbestos in 2020.
Breathing is the most common way for asbestos fibers to penetrate the skin. Asbestos-containing material is only considered hazardous if it releases particles or fragments into the air, which can be ingested or swallowed. Many fibers will only become trapped in the mucosal membranes of the nose and throat, where they can be removed, but some of them travel deep into the lungs or into the digestive tract if eaten. The fibers might cause health problems once they are lodged in the body.
What is Friable Asbestos?
The most dangerous form of Asbestos is when it is friable. The term “friable” refers to the ease with which asbestos can be fragmented by hand and release fibers into the air. Asbestos insulation that has been sprayed is extremely brittle.
Ceiling tiles, floor tiles, undamaged laboratory cabinet tops, shingles, fire doors, siding shingles, and other materials that contain asbestos-containing will not release asbestos fibers unless it is damaged in some way.
For example, if an asbestos ceiling tile is drilled or damaged, fibers may be released into the air. Damage and decay will make asbestos-containing materials more brittle. Water damage, constant vibration, aging, and physical impact such as drilling, grinding, polishing, cutting, sawing, or striking can break down the components, improving the probability of fiber to release.
Where is Asbestos Still Used?
While the usage has declined significantly, you are likely to find this material in old buildings and vehicles. Since the late 1800s, asbestos has been mined and utilized commercially throughout North America during World War II. Asbestos has been consumed in several sectors since then. The engineering and construction industries, for example, also use it to reinforce cement and polymers, as well as for soundproofing, waterproofing, and fireproofing.
Asbestos has been used to protect boilers, steam pipes, and warm water pipes in the shipping industry. Asbestos is used in automobile steering knuckles and clutch pads by the automotive industry. Ceiling and floor tiles, paints, varnishes, and adhesives, and plastics have all incorporated asbestos. It has also been discovered in vermiculite-based landscaping items as well as many talc-based crayons.
Who is at the Risk of Asbestos Exposure?
Although no quantity of asbestos exposure is safe, the worst consequences occur when a person is exposed to a high concentration of it or is exposed to it frequently over a long period. With each exposure, asbestos builds up in the body, and there is no known method to undo the harm it causes.
The vast majority of asbestos-related disease patients are males in their 60s or older. This is due to the extended latency period of asbestos-related disorders, which can take decades to manifest. They are frequently linked to occupational exposure in traditionally male-dominated workplaces.
Individuals who assisted in the rescue, restoration, and restoration efforts at the World Trade Center (WTC) in New York City on September 11, 2001, are also at risk of getting an asbestos-related disease. Because asbestos was used for the construction of the North Tower of the WTC, thousands of tons of asbestos were released into the environment when the building was demolished.
What Factors Increase Asbestos Disease Risk?
Several factors can influence how an individual reacts to asbestos exposure. These include:
- Dosage: how much the person came in contact with asbestos
- Duration: the amount of time a person was exposed.
- Asbestos fibers vary in size, shape, and chemical composition.
- The exposure’s source
- Individual risk factors include smoking and having a history of lung illness.
Even though all kinds of asbestos are dangerous, different types of asbestos fibers may pose varying health concerns.
Several studies, for example, imply that amphibole forms of asbestos are potentially more dangerous than chrysotile, particularly in terms of mesothelioma risk, because they are more likely to remain in the lungs for longer.
What is Asbestosis?
Asbestosis is a dangerous, non-cancerous, chronic lung condition. Asbestos fibers inhale irritate lung tissues, causing scarring. Shortness of breath and a dry crackling sound in the lungs while inhaling are signs of asbestosis.
The condition can progress to the point where it causes heart failure. Asbestosis has no effective treatment; the disease is usually deadly or debilitating.
Those who do not work with asbestos face a low chance of developing asbestosis, and the disease is rarely induced by exposure in the home or family. Depending on the nature of the exposure and the safeguards taken, those who remodel or demolish buildings that contain asbestos may be at serious risk.
Some Symptoms of Asbestos-related Diseases
It’s possible that individuals won’t show any symptoms for years after being exposed to asbestos. People who develop asbestos-related illnesses may be symptom-free for up to 40 years after being exposed to the material. One must consult a doctor in case of the following symptoms:
- Breathing problems.
- Changes in cough patterns or the onset of a cough.
- Blood coughed up from the lungs in the fluid (sputum).
- Aches and pains in the chest and abdomen.
- Swallowing difficulties or persistent hoarseness.
- Drastic weight loss is observed.
- Swelling of the neck or face.
- Food loss is common.
The Combination of Asbestos and Smoking
Smoking and asbestos together has been demonstrated in numerous studies to be highly dangerous. Smokers who are also exposed to asbestos have a higher risk of lung cancer than those who are exposed to both asbestos and smoking separately. Quitting smoking has been shown to lessen the incidence of lung cancer in asbestos-exposed employees.
Smoking does not appear to raise the risk of mesothelioma when paired with asbestos exposure. People who have been exposed to asbestos on the job at any point in their lives, or who believe they have been exposed, should not smoke.
How Asbestos Causes Mesothelioma
Mesothelioma is a malignancy that arises from the thin layer of tissue that surrounds several internal organs (known as the mesothelium). The lining of the lungs and the chest wall are the most commonly affected areas. The lining of the abdomen, as well as the sac enclosing the heart and the sac enclosing the testes, are less usually harmed.
Shortness of breath owing to the fluid surrounding the lung, a swollen abdomen, chest wall pain, cough, fatigue, and weight loss are all signs and symptoms of mesothelioma. These signs and symptoms usually appear gradually.
Asbestos exposure is responsible for more than 80% of mesothelioma cases. The higher the danger, the larger the exposure. Till 2013, around 125 million people had been exposed to asbestos at work around the world. People who mine asbestos, make asbestos goods, work with asbestos goods, live with asbestos workers, or work in buildings containing asbestos have a higher risk of disease.
The time between exposure to asbestos and the beginning of cancer is usually around 40 years. When someone who has dealt with asbestos washes their clothes, they are putting themselves at risk. Genetics and infection with the simian virus 40 are two more risk factors. The diagnosis may be anticipated based on the findings of chest X-rays and CT scans, and it is confirmed by studying cancer’s fluid or performing a tissue specimen.
How to Get Rid of Asbestos
It’s important to remember: Asbestos removal is highly hazardous and should only be carried out by licensed asbestos abatement professionals. Attempting to remove asbestos on your own can pose severe health risks and may be illegal in many jurisdictions.
Do Not Attempt DIY Removal
The first and most crucial step is to understand that asbestos removal is not a DIY task. Asbestos is a dangerous carcinogen, and disturbing asbestos-containing materials can release harmful fibers into the air.
Hire Licensed Professionals
Seek out licensed asbestos abatement professionals who are certified to handle asbestos safely and in compliance with federal and state laws.
Assess the Area
Licensed professionals will assess the extent and severity of asbestos-containing materials in your home to plan the removal project accordingly.
Contain the Work Area
The work area must be sealed off with plastic sheeting, and negative air pressure units should be used to prevent asbestos fibers from escaping. Surfaces not being abated should be covered with plastic sheeting, and warning signs must be posted.
Ensure Personal Safety Protection
Workers must wear N-100 or P-100 respirators and appropriate protective clothing to prevent asbestos exposure.
Implement Safety Protocols
HVAC systems should be disabled to prevent the circulation of asbestos fibers. Wet wipes or a HEPA vacuum should be used to control dust during the abatement process.
Handling and Disposing of Asbestos Waste
Asbestos-containing materials must be wetted before removal. Workers should double-bag asbestos waste in 6-millimeter plastic bags, place them in a plastic, leak-tight container with proper labeling, and dispose of them in specialized landfills designed to receive asbestos waste.
Decontamination enclosures should be set up for workers to remove contaminated clothing, shoes, and tools safely.
Professionals must follow specific decontamination steps to safely remove contaminated protective clothing and equipment, ensuring their safety and preventing the spread of asbestos fibers.
Creating A Safer Work Environment
It’s important to remember that workers in occupations such as construction, demolition, and renovation face the highest risk of asbestos exposure. Inhalation of asbestos fibers can lead to serious health issues, including lung cancer, asbestosis, and mesothelioma.
To mitigate these risks and ensure workplace safety, Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) training programs are invaluable. OSHA 10 construction and OSHA 30 construction programs can help you identify such hazards in the workplace. To stay safe and secure, workers should enroll in such courses and learn how to deal with workplace dangers efficiently.