Everything You Need to Know About Asbestos
Asbestos is a naturally occurring mineral. It’s made up of flexible fibres that join together to create a mineral mass, which is heat and electricity resistant. Its strength and indestructibility make it an excellent choice for building or insulation. Long-term exposure to asbestos, however, can cause severe health issues.
Types of Asbestos
There are two main types of asbestos recognised by The Asbestos Hazard Emergency Response Act (1986). The types of asbestos are categorised based on the shapes of the fibres that they contain:
Amphibole has straight fibres, sometimes with harsh corners or jagged endings. This is the more common form of asbestos and comes in a few different forms depending on the mineral content – these are Crocidolite, Amosite, Tremolite, Actinolite or Anthophyllite.
Serpentine has curly fibres. The only asbestos in this category is ‘white asbestos’ (Chrysotile).
Does Asbestos Cause Cancer?
Yes. Because of the strength of the combined minerals that make up asbestos, it cannot be broken down in the body. The inhalation of asbestos means that it gets permanently lodged in the lungs causing scarring (asbestosis). Over time, severe genetic damage is caused which develops into a rare form of cancer called Mesothelioma.
The exposure to asbestos can also have a similar effect on the lungs to regular smoking. It blackens the lungs, shuts down cells and can eventually cause cancerous tumors which block the chest cavity.
Does Asbestos Cause Other Health Issues?
Exposure to asbestos is well known for its relation to lung cancer. However, there are a few other health issues that have resulted from handling and breathing in asbestos.
Pleural Disease causes changes in the membrane surrounding the lungs, making it thicker and causing a fluid build-up. The fluid gives the patient less lung functionality and worsens over time.
The jagged fibres contained in asbestos have been known to scratch the insides of the lungs as they pass through, and prolonged exposure can mean that the lung surfaces can become scarred. Oxygen and carbon dioxide struggle to pass through the scarring, making it more and more difficult to breathe. This condition can take years to develop after the exposure, so patients might not even be aware they have it until it’s already in its advanced stages.
Although prolonged exposure to asbestos does cause some known health issues, it does have its uses too. Asbestos products in construction, vehicle manufacturing and insulation are still commonly used throughout Russia, India, China, and Mexico today. It used to be one of the main components used in cement – made popular due to its strength and resistance to heat. Some older homes in the U.S. also still contain asbestos in the roofing, attic space and even in old plumbing.
Where Does Asbestos Come From?
Asbestos is still used in some countries, despite its dangers as it is useful in construction and is readily available, as it’s simply a mineral that can be mined. Originally asbestos was mined throughout North America and exported through Russia, Kazakhstan and China. It’s generally found within serpentine rock. The deposits, which can be dug out of the rock interior, are generally only made up of around 5-6% asbestos, which isn’t completely safe, but could still be acceptable to use in construction.
Only those with suitable training and necessary safety gear should work in environments that contain asbestos.
If you require asbestos removal, do not undertake this task yourself. Speak to our expert team at Croft Environmental. We can get the job done safely.