ASBESTOS EXPOSSURE AND ITS EFFECTS IN HEALTH
What is asbestos?
Asbestos is the name given to six minerals that occur naturally in the environment as bundles of fibers that can be separated into thin, durable threads for use in commercial and industrial applications. These fibers are resistant to heat, fire, and chemicals and do not conduct electricity. For these reasons, asbestos has been used widely in many industries. Additional asbestos-like minerals are found in the natural environment, including erionite.
Asbestos minerals are divided into two major groups: Serpentine asbestos and amphibole asbestos. Serpentine asbestos includes the mineral chrysotile, which has long, curly fibers that can be woven. Chrysotile asbestos is the form that has been used most widely in commercial applications. Amphibole asbestos includes the minerals actinolite, tremolite, anthophyllite, crocidolite, and amosite. Amphibole asbestos has straight, needle-like fibers that are more brittle than those of serpentine asbestos and are more limited in their ability to be fabricated
Asbestos has been mined and used commercially in North America since the late 1800s. Its use increased greatly during World War II. Since then, asbestos has been used in many industries. For example, the building and construction industries have used it for strengthening cement and plastics as well as for insulation, roofing, fireproofing, and sound absorption. The shipbuilding industry has used asbestos to insulate boilers, steam pipes, and hot water pipes. The automotive industry uses asbestos in vehicle brake shoes and clutch pads. Asbestos has also been used in ceiling and floor tiles; paints, coatings, and adhesives; and plastics. In addition, asbestos has been found in vermiculite-containing garden products and some talc-containing crayons.
In the late 1970s, the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) banned the use of asbestos in wallboard patching compounds and gas fireplaces because the asbestos fibers in these products could be released into the environment during use. In addition, manufacturers of electric hairdryers voluntarily stopped using asbestos in their products in 1979. In 1989, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) banned all new uses of asbestos; however, uses developed before 1989 are still allowed. The EPA also established regulations that require school systems to inspect buildings for the presence of damaged asbestos and to eliminate or reduce asbestos exposure to occupants by removing the asbestos or encasing it.
In August 2000, the EPA conducted a series of tests to evaluate the risk for consumers of adverse health effects associated with exposure to asbestos-contaminated vermiculite. The EPA concluded that exposure to asbestos from some vermiculite products poses only a minimal health risk. The EPA recommended that consumers reduce the low risk associated with the occasional use of vermiculite during gardening activities by limiting the amount of dust produced during vermiculite use. Specifically, the EPA suggested that consumers use vermiculite outdoors or in a well-ventilated area; keep vermiculite damp while using it; avoid bringing dust from vermiculite into the home on clothing; and use premixed potting soil, which is less likely to generate dust.
The regulations described above and other actions, coupled with widespread public concern about the health hazards of asbestos, have resulted in a significant annual decline in the U.S. use of asbestos. Domestic consumption of asbestos amounted to about 803,000 metric tons in 1973, but it had dropped to about 360 metric tons by 2015.
What are the health effects of asbestos?
The human health effects from long-term unsafe asbestos exposure are well documented. Asbestos fibres are easily inhaled and carried into the lower regions of the lung where they can cause fibrotic lung disease (asbestosis) and changes in the lining of the chest cavity (pleura). These diseases can lead to reduced respiratory function and death. Long-term inhalation of asbestos fibres also increases the risk of lung cancer and mesothelioma.
Enlargement of the heart can also occur as an indirect effect from the increased resistance of blood flow through the lungs. People are more likely to experience asbestos-related disorders if they:
- are exposed to high concentrations of asbestos,
- are exposed for longer periods of time, and/or
- are exposed to asbestos more frequently.
What occupations could be exposed to asbestos?
According to the U.S. Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR) and the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), asbestos exposure is a concern for the following workplaces and processes:
- Mining of asbestos occurring from natural mineral deposits.
- Processing of asbestos minerals (millers)
- Manufacture of asbestos-containing products.
- Construction industry – disturbing asbestos-containing materials during building renovations or demolitions.
- Mechanics – vehicle brake and clutch repairs.
- Marinas – renovating or demolishing ships constructed with asbestos-containing materials.
- Insulation workers and heating trades.
- Sheet metal workers, plumbers and pipe fitters.
- Workers responsible for disposing of asbestos waste, and waste workers.
- Cement workers.
- Custodial workers – contact with deteriorating asbestos-containing materials in buildings.
Now that you have read this article so far, you may realize how important is to hire an expert to get rid of this hazardous material asap from your commercial buildings. You can find at Environmental Construction Group (ECG) a reliable team that will strive for your security in each abatement project. Your success is our goal!