In recent years, the term asbestos has gained much recognition due to its link with cancer and other health issues. Asbestos is a natural mineral and because of its high resistance to heat, has been used in various building materials for more than sixty years. Although it is still used to some degree, it was banned from use in numerous construction applications by 1980.
What is Asbestos?
Asbestos is commonly found in soil and rocks throughout the planet and is identified as a type of silica, likened to what is used to manufacture computer chips and glass. The asbestos silica fibers are microscopic, and as such can easily become airborne. Thus, when inhaled or ingested, this foreign material can become lodged in the body and lead to cancer and other diseases.
Asbestos fibers are categorized according to shape and color. For instance the chrysotile fibers, known as white asbestos are curled at the ends, while the brown or blue toned amphibole fibers are straight. Although all types have been linked to lung issues, the long, straight fibers pose the most health problems, as they can penetrate the protective lining in the lungs, heart, or digestive tract, and result in asbestosis, pleural fibrosis, or mesothelioma.
When does Asbestos ExposureThreaten Health?
Prior to the 1980s, asbestos was frequently used in several building materials ranging from ceiling and flooring tiles, to shingles and insulation. It’s important to understand that coming in contact with asbestos containingmaterials isn’t harmful per se, rather the risk occurs when the small fibers are disturbed and released into the air. So, the likelihood of this happening is dependent on the application. For instance, insulation is much more apt to breakdown and form a lightweight dust, whereas floor and ceiling tiles typically stay intact unless they are torn or punctured.
The Health Issues Caused By Asbestos
Due to the fact that asbestos was used so frequently in homes, office buildings, and even automobiles from the 1930s to the late 1970s, most everyone has been around asbestos as some point in time.
During this era, the popularity of asbestos grew because of its abundance and versatility, especially for its soundproofing, thermal and fire resistant properties. It was being used by manufacturers across the U.S., not only in construction, but also on automobile assembly lines. That’s right – those collectible vehicles that we’re all familiar with in one way or another probably have asbestos material present inthe brake pads, clutches, gaskets, hood liners, and so on.
Again, it’s not until these materials are disturbed via drilling, sawing, are demolishing, which can pollute the air with particles where they are breathed in and become dangerous. The human body is an amazing creation, equipped with its own defense mechanisms, but unfortunately it isn’t invincible. In fact, the mucous membranes in the nose and throat can often stop asbestos fibers from further penetrating the body. However, if these toxins do make their way deeper into the body, it’s virtually impossible to get rid of them. This is when they become lodged into the linings of the lungs, or even the heart and stomach, and as with most foreign objects in the body, those defense mechanisms fail and health problems ensue.
Such issues include, asbestosis, mesothelioma, pleural fibrosis, and lung cancer.
Asbestosis is a chronic lung disease that causes shortness of breath. There is no known treatment for asbestosis and will eventually lead to heart problems or death. Most people diagnosed with asbestosis were exposed to asbestos fibers via building renovations or demolitions, by failing to wear the necessary protective gear.
Lung Cancer caused is the leading cause of death among individuals exposed to asbestos. The effected individuals are generally exposed to asbestos through jobs in either the milling or manufacturing industries, or mining the raw asbestos materials. Lung cancer systems include, difficulty breathing, coughing, chest pains, and anemia.
Pleural Fibrosis is defined as the hardening of the outer lining of the lungs (aka pleura) and/or inflammation in the lungs, which results in difficulty breathing.
Mesothelioma is a type of cancer that has been directly linked to asbestos. This form of cancer can develop in the lungs, stomach, chest, digestive tract, or heart. Statistics indicate that approximately 10% of those working in or living in close vicinity to an asbestos environment on a regular basis (i.e. asbestos mines and factories) contract mesothelioma.
The exposure to asbestos and the likelihood of developing health issues varies based on a person’s age, amount of exposure, overall health, and lifestyle. For instance, smoking increases the risk, as does the duration of exposure. Conversely, symptoms of these health problems may not present themselves until many years later. Therefore, the key is to avoiding asbestos related disease or cancer is knowing what to do should you come in contact with asbestos fibers.
Asbestos Is Still Being Used Today
Even though asbestos has been linked to a number of health issues, the chrysotile form of asbestos is still being used today. According to the Asbestos Institute, the current applications are less likely to break down and become airborne.
So, regardless of the known health risks associated with asbestos, it is still used in 90% of the world’s production of plastics, cement products, and gaskets, This ismainly because of its availability, durability, and low cost.
Clinical diagnoses of asbestosis are still on the rise, but because asbestos related symptoms can take between 10 and 40 years to develop, commerce continues to reap the financial benefits while potentially putting workers at risk. Granted, the curled fiber ends of the chrysotile type of asbestos has been shown less invasive to the human body than the banned long straight amphibole fibers, it may be another 4 decades before the true safety of any asbestos fibers is determined.
How to Protect Your Family
With so many structures, vehicles, and asbestos-containing products still in existence today, it’s near impossible to completely avoid asbestos completely. Fortunately, as long as these products remain intact, there is little risk involved.
The real hazard occurs when people dive into those do-it-yourself projects before determining whether or not they are working in an asbestos environment. This is where it pays to hire a professional to inspect your property to assess the presence of asbestos.
The general rule of thumb is if it was built prior to the 1980s, it is almost guaranteed asbestos exists. So, before you pick up that sledgehammer to tear down a wall, pull up that kitchen tile, scrape away the popcorn ceiling, or bag the crumbled insulation in the attic, contact Albany Asbestos Company for a thorough inspection.
Expert testing is required to determine the presence of asbestos; and in the event that it is, Albany Asbestos can advise you on asbestos remediation and removal.