You’ve probably heard about asbestos and how harmful exposure to this substance can be. But despite the well documented warnings, many people remain at risk even today. This article looks at what asbestos actually is, how it has been used and what health problems can arise when individuals are required to work with it. We’ll also look at how such contact can be avoided if possible.

What is Asbestos?

Asbestos is a material that is made up of natural fibres and can be mixed with other materials for various uses.

What is it used for?

Since the 1950’s, asbestos has been used in the building trade and it was an extremely popular choice for many years. Due to the heat and fire resistant quality of asbestos, it was favoured in the construction, automotive and various other industries. Asbestos mines were widely spread and it seemed that this particular industry was destined for a long and lucrative future. Sadly, the health and safety aspect of working with asbestos was not really investigated correctly.

How can it harm us?

The main problem that arises when we work with this material is the tiny fibres that are released into the air once the material becomes disturbed. If you are unlucky enough to inhale these fibres, they can become trapped in your lungs and as a result, some serious health conditions may surface. These medical conditions are documented as follows:

  • Asbestosis – This causes our lungs to become severely inflamed and can even scar them. Shortness of breath, violent coughing are amongst the symptoms of this terrible condition
  • Lung Cancer – This form of cancer is deadly and can put the sufferer through sheer hell for several years before they finally succumb. Treatment can cure lung cancer, but only if the diseases is correctly diagnosed in the very early stages.
  • Mesothelioma – This is an extremely rare type of cancer that affects the lining of the lungs as well as the chest cavity and abdomen.
  • Various lung problems – The presence of asbestos fibres in the lungs can increase the thickness of the lung’s membranes and also cause an abnormal collection of fluid to gather within the lungs.

Asbestos Exposure – Causes and Risks

As you can see, the negatives of working with asbestos far outweigh the original positives. So who exactly remains at risk to this terribly dangerous substance?  Asbestos has been mined in the UK since the 1800’s and it has been used for a myriad of purposes thereafter. Automotive workers have been exposed to these possible side effects. Car brake shoes and clutch pads have been made using asbestos, although this no longer is the case. Many building materials were made from asbestos, including ceiling and floor tiles. Various types of paints, adhesives and coatings have used asbestos. Even crayons were using asbestos until very recently. If an asbestos worker were unlucky enough to breathe in the debilitating dust, they could even affect their family as a result. Another nasty fact regarding asbestos is that it can take up to 15 years for the terrible side effects to rear their ugly head.

How can it be avoided?

Thankfully, the use of asbestos has been greatly reduced in everyday manufacturing plants across the globe. But asbestos mines are still in existence and the people unlucky enough to live near these excavation sites may still be at risk. When workers are required to undergo maintenance on older buildings, they are required to don the appropriate health and safety regulated clothing and masks for their own protection. The responsibility of carrying out these improved safety level standards falls directly on the owners of these buildings. The Twin Towers bombing actually exposed many of the construction workers to asbestos during the repair project. Hundreds of tons of asbestos based powder were believed to have been released into the atmosphere after the attack. It is unknown if there will be any after effects for the citizens of New York – Hopefully not.