How is exposure to Asbestos dangerous?

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Asbestos Exposure

What is Asbestos?

Asbestos is a naturally-occurring, fibrous material.  The material was used for buildings in the UK between the 1950’s and 1980’s.  Countries such as: Russia, Brazil, South Africa and China all mined the substance.  The fibres have been woven into fabrics or mixed in cement and have been used all around the world.  Materials that are made with it are strong, incombustible, heat resistant and sound- absorbent.  This makes it an attractive material for electrical and building insulation, among other uses.  In the UK there are many buildings that contain the product, particularly if they were built, or refurbished before the year 2000.  This therefore means you are at higher risk of encountering it when working on those properties.

In the past there were many people who suffered lung diseases due to exposure.  Which resulted in a ban of asbestos in the UK in 1999.  Over 50 countries currently prohibit the use of the substance.  However, countries including: India, China, Russia and Indonesia all still use it.  As a result, it may be that all these countries will have more people that suffer with some of the symptoms.

What are the different types of Asbestos?

Main types of asbestos

Many people fail to realise that different types of asbestos exist.  The term actually refers to six unique minerals belonging to two mineral families, Serpentine and Amphibole.  Each form is highly toxic and if ever exposure occurs it may develop many different terminal diseases.  There are three main types of asbestos.  These are: Chrysotile, Amosite and also Crocidolite.

  • Chrysotile-  This is the most common used type and there is often traces of Tremolite.  These fibres are usually fine in texture, processing high flexibility and good heat resistant properties which makes it ideal to use in cement, brake pads/lining and roofing materials.
  • Amosite-  Africa commonly mines Amosite, which is a particularly strong and heat- resistant type.  Amosite is commonly used to make cement sheets, electrical insulation and plumbing insulation.  Even though all types of asbestos are toxic, Amosite exposure gives you a higher risk of getting cancer.
  • Crocidolite-  The thin fibres are easily lodged in the lungs when inhaled and can cause problems.  The brittle nature and thin fibres actually make Crocidolite one of the most harmful types of asbestos.  Exposure in Crocidolite is regular because their fibres are easily broken down.

Minor types of Asbestos

In addition, there are minor types that occur, which include: Tremolite, Actinolite and Anthophyllite.  Neither of these substances have been sold commercially.  However, they were often found as contaminants in commercially sold asbestos products.

  • Tremolite- These fibres are often found as a contaminant in chrysotile asbestos.  There are a few colours that they come in, green, grey and white.  The different colours are useful for different reasons.
  • Actinolite- These fibres are very lightweight and tend to have a dark colour.  They usually come in various forms, either brittle and fibrous or dense and compact.  Paints, sealants and drywall often contain these fibres.  In addition, Actinolite is commonly used as insulation materials and structural fire-proofing.  This is because it actually expands when heated which makes it an effective insulation material.
  • Anthophyllite-  They are a grey-brown colour and are commonly found as a contaminant in composite flooring.  Even though it is considered to be non-commercial, it was regularly used in products containing vermiculite and talc.  The risk of developing a disease from this type of asbestos is much lower than others.

 How can you tell when Asbestos is present?

Many people find it hard to believe that you can’t tell if asbestos is present through sight, smell or colour.  It comes in many different forms, shapes and colours.  The only way you can definitely know if it is present is by getting a specialist laboratory to test the material.  Once the material is disturbed it will then let out harmful fibres.  If you were to inhale it may cause harm.  If ever you are unsure if a material is asbestos, the safest option is to seek professional advice before touching it.

Effects of Asbestos

Exposure is dangerous because you can’t see or smell the harmful fibres that are in the air.  If this happens over a pro-longed period of time they can cause life threatening diseases, some of these include:

  • Mesothelioma, a cancer of the inner living of the chest wall or abdominal cavity.
  • Asbestos- related lung cancer
  • Asbestosis or fibrosis of the lungs
  • Non-malignant pleural disease

There are also some more common symptoms, including:

  • Shortness of breath
  • A persistent cough
  • Chest pain
  • Difficulty swallowing
  • Swelling of the neck or face
  • Weight and appetite loss
  • Fatigue and/or anaemia

If you would like to find out more about how Safety Forward can help you resolve your asbestos issues please contact us here or take our asbestos online training course here