Despite studies finding varying risks associated with asbestos types, all asbestos is dangerous and there is no ‘safe’ type of asbestos. Exposure to any type of asbestos can lead to cancers and other illnesses.
Asbestos types are not regulated differently based on perceived danger. Historically, evidence was submitted in an attempt to prove chrysotile (white) was less dangerous than other amphibole types. The decision to treat all asbestos types equally was supported by the following reasons:
Studies continue to research the level of risk associated with each asbestos type.
Friable vs. Non-Friable Asbestos (Also known as Fibrous ACM vs. Bonded ACM)
Asbestos materials are either friable or non-friable. Friability depends on how easily the material can be broken down by hand. Friable products typically pose more of a health risk than non-friable asbestos.
Non-friable asbestos may pose a negligible risk if properly contained. However, individuals should treat any asbestos product as a potential health risk. Home renovations, natural disasters and other incidents can easily present asbestos exposure risks.
What Was Asbestos Used For?
Asbestos was used in a variety of products mainly for heat resistance and fireproofing. Asbestos use peaked towards the late 1900s. The mineral was used in insulation, cement, flooring, roofing and fireproof products. This practice was popular from the 1930s to the 1970s.
Is Asbestos Still Common in the UK Today?
Amphibole asbestos product usage was banned in the UK in 1985 and use of chrysotile asbestos product usage was finally banned in 1999. Older asbestos-containing products can become exposed from damage, wear-and-tear, or other disturbances. For example, buildings and homes built before 1999 likely contain some asbestos materials that haven’t been replaced or removed.
Asbestos was once used in thousands of products. Regulations prevent many new products from containing the mineral, but some may legally contain low levels of asbestos. Manufacturers are also not required to disclose asbestos in the ingredients list if there is less than 1% asbestos.
Common asbestos products include:
Historically, there are many occupations that have put workers at risk of asbestos exposure. The term “asbestos occupation” refers to any job potentially exposing workers to asbestos fibres. Insulation engineers (laggers), joiners, marine engineers, to mention a few trades were historically exposed to significant amounts of raw/disturbed asbestos material.
Asbestos occupations involve:
Manufacturing products with raw asbestos (Example: Using asbestos to create asbestos cement)
Working with materials containing the mineral (Example: Repairing vehicles with asbestos-containing brakes)
Working in buildings containing the mineral (Example: Teachers working in classrooms with aging asbestos ceiling tiles)
The main concern with asbestos in the workplace is if fibres become airborne. Individuals can then breathe in or swallow the fibres. Many jobs required workers to sand, cut or repair asbestos products. This often-created asbestos dust. Asbestos building materials may also face wear and tear over the years, which can expose fibres in classrooms, public buildings, and other structures.
Asbestos particles are not typically visible to the naked eye and are odourless. As a result, many workers are unaware of their exposure.
Secondary Asbestos Exposure
Individuals are at risk of second-hand exposure if they come into contact with asbestos fibres from someone else who was exposed. For example, women and family members were often exposed when men brought asbestos fibres home on their clothing. Men most frequently held high-risk asbestos occupations.
EXPOSURE HEALTH RISKS
What Are the Health Risks of Asbestos?
Asbestos fibres are dangerous when they are inhaled or swallowed and become embedded in organ linings and tissues. Asbestos-related diseases include mesothelioma, lung cancer, asbestosis, and other illnesses.
Asbestos cancers include mesothelioma, lung cancer, laryngeal cancer and ovarian cancer. Studies have found correlations between asbestos and several other cancers, such as breast cancer and colon cancer.
Due to their needle-like structure, fibres can easily embed in organ linings and tissues. This can then cause irritation, mutation, and cancer. Long-term exposure to asbestos fibres increases the risk of asbestos cancer.
Asbestos diseases include asbestosis, pleural thickening, pleural plaques, and other conditions. These illnesses are typically caused by prolonged exposure to asbestos fibres. However, no amount of exposure is safe, including short-term exposure.
Asbestos diseases can also be an indicator of asbestos cancer.
ASBESTOS SAFETY TIPS
How to Avoid the Dangers of Asbestos
People can avoid the dangers of asbestos by:
Identifying Asbestos Products
Individuals cannot easily identify asbestos products on their own. However, there are professionals trained at identifying and confirming the presence of asbestos.
Most asbestos products were manufactured prior to 1985. Items facing high temperatures or friction are likely to contain the mineral. Homeowners with houses built prior to 1985 should be particularly careful. Homeowner with houses built post-2000 would be unlikely to contain asbestos.
Some products may be deemed “safe” if asbestos is properly contained. Health risks emerge when the fibres become exposed. Asbestos in the home could become a health risk when conducting repairs or renovations. Asbestos materials may also become exposed during a natural disaster or after wear and tear.
Safely Handling and Removing Asbestos
Individuals should never touch, move, or dispose of asbestos-containing material on their own. Asbestos abatement professionals are trained and certified in identifying, handling and properly disposing of the material.
Asbestos materials cannot be disposed of in normal trash bins and waste sites. They require specific packaging and labelling before disposal at designated locations.
Finding Alternatives to Asbestos
There are many asbestos alternatives. These options have comparable properties and less severe health effects. Asbestos alternatives may include:
Amorphous Silica Fabrics
Asbestos substitutes may present other health problems, such as lung disease. Before using an asbestos alternative, individuals should understand the associated benefits and risks.
If individuals have been exposed to asbestos and developed a related illness, they may be able to file a claim. Asbestos claims can help with treatment costs and loss of income. Asbestos victims should discuss their exposure, diagnosis, and financial needs with an experienced lawyer to understand their options.