|Asbestos is a naturally occurring mineral. Because of its desirable physical characteristics, it is widely used industrially. It is used for insulations for the walls, ceilings, pipes and boilers. It is also used in floor tiles and fireproofing buildings as well as in brake linings and clutch pads. There are still a lot of uses of asbestos and the things above are just a few of them. Mining for asbestos began around 4,000 years ago grew to its peak around 1970's and the largest asbestos mine is found in Asbestos, Quebec. Eventually the people noticed that a lot of early deaths happened especially to the people living near the mines.|
What makes the mineral "asbestos" dangerous? Asbestos is a fibrous mineral. These fibers are very small, smaller than hair. It is not even visible to the naked eye. It does not pose any threat if it is left intact and undisturbed. The danger comes when these fibers are disturbed, inhaled and would get inside the lungs and digestive tract, if swallowed. Asbestos is hazardous if it is friable. Friable means asbestos is easily crumbled by hand thus, will release fibers into the air to be exhaled or swallowed. Since it is used for industrial purposes, it does not pose any threat to anybody living near the building with asbestos as long as these products are not damaged or are not leaking. If so, these minute fibers will float around and can be inhaled by anybody.
So what happens if you have inhaled asbestos? What diseases will you possibly experience? You might get sick with many serious illnesses like asbestosis, malignant lung cancer and mesothelioma. Asbestosis is a chronic respiratory disease where scars are formed in your lungs due to the asbestos being inhaled. You will experience shortness of breath and crackling sounds in the lungs upon inhalation. Lung Cancer is the leading cause of death due to asbestos exposure. The common symptoms of lung cancer are shortness of breath, continuous pain in the chest, hoarseness of voice, coughing, change in breathing, and anemia. We also have a very rare illness caused by asbestos exposure named as Mesothelioma where cancer occurs in the thin membranes of different organs like the lungs, chest, abdomen and heart. So what are your risks of having these diseases? It all depends on two things, the duration as well as the amount of your exposure of the mineral. You are more inclined to get any of these diseases if you were exposed for a long time as well as in a very large quantity of asbestos. The second thing that increases your risk factor is smoking which can increase your risk of having lung cancer 10 times than those who do not smoke. If you are exposed to asbestos and smoke at the same time, then you are 50 to 90 times more likely to have a lung cancer than those who are not exposed to asbestos and do not smoke at all.
Due to these dangers asbestos poses to health, the mining of the mineral has substantially decreased to about less than half of what it was in the 1970's. It is prohibited to work in areas with high levels of asbestos. If working in these areas cannot be avoided, the employees are advised not to disturb the asbestos containing materials. They are also not allowed to drill, saw or break any of these things. Asbestos exposure monitoring is done before, during and after the project to ensure the safety of the employees.
And to further minimize the use of asbestos, some substitutes were invented. Some countries make use of fiberglass, mineral wool and glass wool for insulation. Another fiber is polybenzimidazole or PBI fiber which has a very high melting point and is used by fire departments.