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When we mention asbestos, it might bring you back to your school days when you learned about a once-popular insulation material. Asbestos was used in buildings and homes for centuries before scientists discovered its potential to cause fatal diseases. Once it was established that asbestos could be harmful, bans were enacted across many countries; however, most people who worked in occupations where they were exposed to asbestos are now at risk of developing mesothelioma or other asbestos-related diseases. In fact, according to recent statistics from leading mesothelioma specialists at Cancer Treatment Centers of America®, more than 3 million Americans have been diagnosed with some form of an asbestos-related disease.
asbestos is a common name for six naturally occurring minerals in the environment as bunch of fibers that can be splitted into thin, lasting threads being used for commercial and industrial purposes. These bunch of asbestos fibres can withstand heat, fire, and chemicals and do not transmit electricity. This is why asbestos materials have been used widely in different companies.
The chemical structure of asbestos shows that it is silicate in nature meaning that it is composed of atoms of silicon element and oxygen.
Asbestos minerals are separated into two different divisions: These are Serpentine asbestos and amphibole asbestos. Serpentine asbestos contains the mineral chrysotile, which has long, soft fibers that can be woven. Chrysotile asbestos is the form that has been used most widely in commercial usage. Also the amphibole asbestos includes the minerals actinolite, tremolite, anthophyllite, crocidolite, and amosite. The amphibole asbestos has straight, tiny pin-like fibers that are more brittle than those of serpentine asbestos and are more limited in their ability to be fabricated.
USES OF ASBESTOS:
People have been using Asbestos for a very long time ago. The mining activities of asbestos started in the USA since 1800. Massive increase in the use of asbestos was recorded after the World War II. Different mineral industries use Asbestos materials for different purposes ranging from building and construction of houses and bridges, insulation purpose, roofing, break pad building, hot water pipes in bathroom, proofreading and sound absorption purposes.
Because of the implications and Health effects of the use of asbestos, the state government enacted policies to regulate the use of asbestos. In 1989, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) banned all new uses of asbestos; however, uses developed before 1989 are still allowed. The EPA also established regulations that require school systems to inspect buildings for the presence of damaged asbestos and to eliminate or reduce asbestos exposure to occupants by removing the asbestos or encasing it.
The United States Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) restricted the use of asbestos materials in wallboard patching compounds and gas fireplaces because the asbestos fibers in these products could be released into the environment during use and be inhaled by innocent citizens resulting in severe Health issues. In addition, manufacturers of electric hairdryers voluntarily stopped using asbestos in their products in 1979.
In August 2000, the EPA conducted a series of tests to evaluate the risk for consumers of adverse health effects associated with exposure to asbestos-contaminated vermiculite. The EPA concluded that exposure to asbestos from some vermiculite products poses only a minimal health risk. The EPA recommended that consumers reduce the low risk associated with the occasional use of vermiculite during gardening activities by limiting the amount of dust produced during vermiculite use.
Specifically, the EPA suggested that consumers use vermiculite outdoors or in a well-ventilated area; keep vermiculite damp while using it; avoid bringing dust from vermiculite into the home on clothing; and use premixed potting soil, which is less likely to generate dust.
The regulations described above and other actions, coupled with widespread public concern about the health hazards of asbestos, have resulted in a significant annual decline in the U.S. use of asbestos. Domestic consumption of asbestos amounted to about 803,000 metric tons in 1973, but it had dropped to about 360 metric tons by 2015.
HEALTH IMPLICATIONS OF ASBESTOS EXPOSURE:
People may be exposed to asbestos in their workplace, their communities, or their homes. If products containing asbestos are disturbed, tiny asbestos fibers are released into the air. When asbestos fibers are breathed in, they may get trapped in the lungs and remain there for a long time. Over time, these fibers can accumulate and cause scarring and inflammation, which can affect breathing and lead to serious health problems.
Asbestos has been classified as a known human carcinogen (a substance that causes cancer) by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), and the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC). According to IARC, there is sufficient evidence that asbestos causes mesothelioma (a relatively rare cancer of the thin membranes that line the chest and abdomen), and cancers of the lung, larynx, and ovary.
In fact, it is thought that most mesotheliomas are due to asbestos exposure. There is limited evidence that asbestos exposure is linked to increased risks of cancers of the stomach, pharynx, and colorectum.
Asbestos exposure may also increase the risk of asbestosis (an inflammatory condition affecting the lungs that can cause shortness of breath, coughing, and permanent lung damage) and other nonmalignant lung and pleural disorders, including pleural plaques (changes in the membranes surrounding the lung), pleural thickening, and benign pleural effusions (abnormal collections of fluid between the thin layers of tissue lining the lungs and the wall of the chest cavity). Although pleural plaques are not precursors to lung cancer, evidence suggests that people with pleural disease caused by exposure to asbestos may be at increased risk for lung cancer.
Erionite has also been classified as a known human carcinogen by IARC and by HHS. It is not currently regulated by the EPA.
PEOPLE PRONE TO ASBESTOS EXPOSURE:
Everyone is exposed to asbestos at some time during their life. Low levels of asbestos are present in the air, water, and soil. However, most people do not become ill from their exposure. People who become ill from asbestos are usually those who are exposed to it on a regular basis, most often in a job where they work directly with the material or through substantial environmental contact.
Mllions of American workers have been exposed to asbestos since 1940. Health hazards from asbestos fibers have been recognized in workers exposed in the shipbuilding trades, asbestos mining and milling, manufacturing of asbestos textiles and other asbestos products, insulation work in the construction and building trades, and a variety of other trades. Demolition workers, drywall removers, asbestos removal workers, firefighters, and automobile workers also may be exposed to asbestos fibers.
Studies evaluating the cancer risk experienced by automobile mechanics exposed to asbestos through brake repair are limited, but the overall evidence suggests there is no safe level of asbestos exposure. As a result of government regulations and improved work practices, today’s workers (those without previous exposure) are likely to face smaller risks than did those exposed in the past.
Individuals involved in the rescue, recovery, and cleanup at the site of the September 11, 2001, attacks on the World Trade Center (WTC) in New York City are another group at risk of developing an asbestos-related disease. Because asbestos was used in the construction of the North Tower of the WTC, when the building was attacked, hundreds of tons of asbestos were released into the atmosphere.
Those at greatest risk include firefighters, police officers, paramedics, construction workers, and volunteers who worked in the rubble at Ground Zero. Others at risk include residents in close proximity to the WTC towers and those who attended schools nearby. These individuals will need to be followed to determine the long-term health consequences of their exposure. However, it is important to note that any symptoms these individuals experience may be related to exposure to debris components other than asbestos.
Although it is clear that the health risks from asbestos exposure increase with heavier exposure and longer exposure time, investigators have found asbestos-related diseases in individuals with only brief exposures. Generally, those who develop asbestos-related diseases show no signs of illness for a long time after exposure. It can take from 10 to 60 years or more for symptoms of an asbestos-related condition to appear.
There is some evidence that family members of workers heavily exposed to asbestos face an increased risk of developing mesothelioma. This risk is thought to result from exposure to asbestos fibers brought into the home on the shoes, clothing, skin, and hair of workers. To decrease these exposures, Federal law regulates workplace practices to limit the possibility of asbestos being brought home in this way.
Some employees may be required to shower and change their clothes before they leave work, store their street clothes in a separate area of the workplace, or wash their work clothes at home separately from other clothes.
Cases of mesothelioma have also been seen in individuals without occupational asbestos exposure who live close to asbestos mines.