Asbestos contains six naturally occurring silicate materials classified as chrysotile, amosite, crocidolite, tremolite, anthophyllite, and actinolite. Asbestos is commonly used due to its strength and high flexibility. Also, asbestos fibers are resistant to breaking down by acid, alkali, water, heat, and flame. Due to its superior physics-chem properties, asbestos was used for cement products, floor tiles and textiles insulating board, lagging, ceiling or floor cavity, garage roof tiles, and pipes. In fact, asbestos use dates back thousands of years ago- they were found in pottery dating back to the Stone Age, in the embalmed body of Egyptian pharaohs, and even at napkins and tablecloths used by early Romans.
Useful Yet Toxic Material
Although asbestos fibers have promising usage in various industries, asbestos can cause lung cancer, asbestosis, pleural thickening, and mesothelioma. With its wide reach and fatal effects, the International Agency for Research on Cancer has classified asbestos as a Category 1 Human Carcinogen. And since this site is unknown to a human for centuries, British Health and Safety Executive named asbestos as “hidden killer.”
Asbestos In The Workplace
As if this is not alarming enough, World Health Organization has estimated that 107,000 workers are exposed to the world’s number one deadly industrial toxin each year. These workers are commonly the painters, powerhouse workers, floor coverers, pot tenders, refinery workers, paper mill workers or gasket makers. Other occupations may include tile setters, machinists, rubber workers, warehouse workers, mixing operatives, sawyers, brake makers, tinsmiths, weavers, excavators, technicians, brake and clutch makers, and so on.
Moreover, asbestos in the workplace can get heavier exposure to the workers, particularly during the removal of asbestos materials due to renovation, repairs, or demolition. Currently, the common asbestos source of exposures is mostly coming from brake pads manufacturing industries. Also, people living in homes with friable asbestos materials and in areas where the asbestos-bearing rock is disturbed are highly susceptible.
The major pathway of asbestos to our body is inhalation of fibers. Others can acquire asbestos through ingestion and dermal contact. Asbestos-related diseases are not felt right away as they can have a latency period of 20 to 40 years. In fact, the most studied asbestos-related disease mesothelioma affect people who used to deal with asbestos who are currently 65 years old and older. Workers will not feel the immediate effect on their health, but they definitely will after a couple of decades, commonly their retirement age.
There are no safe levels of asbestos as it is extremely lethal. However, asbestos that is stored or undisturbed is usually safe. It is advised to follow all Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) rules and regulations when it comes to materials handling. It must be noted that only intact asbestos is safe. Otherwise, it is broken, destroyed, or agitated asbestos fibers can become airborne and pose serious health threats. Strict federal guidelines have also been created, so contractors are obligated to follow them. It can cause health problems if failed to do so, not just for the workers but to the population of the entire affected area as well.