The Truth about Asbestos

‘Asbestos-related diseases kill more people than road traffic accidents in the UK each year’. (www.bbc.co.uk/news/health-18456555)

A group of six different kinds of naturally occurring materials is asbestos. These six different minerals are actinolite, tremolite, anthophyllite, amosite, crocidolite and chrysolite. It is resistant to many chemicals, fire and heat and is a composition of durable, fine fibers. For this reason, asbestos used to be a key material used in manufacturing.

Although it was once known as a miracle mineral but in the present era, everyone in UK and other parts of the world know that asbestos causes  mesothelioma and other kinds of caners and many lung-related diseases. The fibers of this mineral are quite small (microscopic), thus can be easily inhaled without knowing. Once the fibers enter the human body it tends to cling to the respiratory system which includes the inner cavity tissue and the lung’s lining. The human body cannot break down or expel these fibers. Thus, because of the accumulated fibers, the body begins to develop the many respiratory and other kinds of diseases caused by it.

Here it is important to mention that, while asbestos exposure is in fact hazardous but, not all products made with this mineral are essentially dangerous. A person will only fall victim to the diseases and health risks cause by this mineral if they inhale the fibers over a long period of time. The only time that is possible is when there are loose fibers present in the atmosphere where they are living and/or working. This condition is known as friable. If the person is dealing with stable asbestos compounds then he/she can rest assure that there is no immediate danger.

How prevalent is asbestos exposure?

In the UK, many people came into contact with asbestos, ironically by using gas mask (during World War II) and vessels used in the British Armed Forces (in 1980s) used this very mineral. Besides, carpenters, HVAC engineers, joiners, plasterers, plumbers, roofing contractors, boilermakers, demolition crews, electricians, painters, maintenance workers and even teachers all came in contact with loose fibers as asbestos were used to manufacture ceiling materials, textile products, roofing shingles, cement compounds, floor tiles, panels, ovens, stove-top pads, toasters, hair dryers, automotive parts, surface coating, soundproofing materials, plasters, paints and many other such materials which everyone comes in contact with every day.

The UK government came to the decision to ban asbestos. According to the UK’s Control of Asbestos Regulation Act it is prohibited to supply, use and also import this mineral. But, the law also allowed the existing of the asbestos to be present as long as they are intact and is in a good condition i.e. undisturbed.

What will happen if Asbestos is Undisturbed?

If the product containing it is disturbed then loose asbestos fibers are found in the atmosphere. By inhaling these loose fibers a person can suffer from three major lung conditions. These three conditions are lung cancer, asbestosis, and of course, mesothelioma.

Some of the symptoms of lung cancers caused by inhaling the fibers are chest pain, coughing and also difficulty in breathing. Mesothelioma can be explained as a much more aggressive and rare type of cancer which is mainly caused due to asbestos exposure. The lining of the lungs, heart and abdominal cavity are some of the areas in a body where mesothelioma can originate. Asbestosis, in many cases, has represented a pre-cursor to the mesothelioma and it happens to be a progressive and degenerative long term, non-malignant type of respiratory condition.

How can asbestos be managed?

The duty to manage the products containing this mineral has been mentioned in regulation 4 of the UK’s Control of Asbestos Regulation of 2012 where it is stated that the person whose duty it is to manage this mineral should take proper steps to find out what are the materials in and around the premises which contains it, and if it is in an undisturbed state or not. If at any time, it is discovered that the material containing this mineral needs to be managed then the person must do all that he/she can to quickly take control of the situation to avoid the risks. Asbestos surveys are well worth the investment, and a survey is an ABSOLUTE must in public places.  Asbestos companies will also sample fibres and materials if needs to be to establish that the material IS or is not asbestos. Schools in the UK are duty-bound to have an asbestos report which is shown to anybody working in the school, and also viewable on demand by any stakeholder (parents/teacher).

According to the UK government, a person can take the help of an unlicensed (but capable) contractor to manage, remove or seal the ACM (Asbestos containing materials) only when the materials are of lower risk like roofing or cement sheets containing it. But, if the ACM is of higher risk like insulating panels or pipe insulation then it is requested that only a licensed contracted be hired to manage the situation effectively and accurately.

Find out more about asbestos essentials/duty of care regarding Asbestos at the government website. 


About Carol Lopez