What’s the Big Deal about Asbestos?

March 31, 2012 by  
Filed under Asbestos, Blog, Cancer, Front Page, Health, Slideshow

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Tiny asbestos fibers from industrial waste cut like glass shards in the lungs. Photo: @Sakura-Fotolia.com

Tiny asbestos fibers from industrial waste cut like glass shards in the lungs. Photo: @Sakura-Fotolia.com

They sound so harmless: tiny mineral fibers, interspersed throughout rock deposits, mined for their natural insulating qualities. Just how bad can these asbestos fibers be?

Just ask any of the 3,000 Americans who are diagnosed with mesothelioma in any given year – or any of the thousands of others diagnosed with different asbestos-related diseases: Asbestos is much more dangerous than it sounds.

What is Asbestos?

Asbestos is commonly found in old construction materials, such as these broken tiles. Photo: (c)Ichbins11-Fotolia.com

Asbestos is commonly found in old construction materials, such as these broken tiles. Photo: @Ichbins11-Fotolia.com

Found all across the world, including major deposits in Canada, China, Russia and Australia, asbestos is a naturally occurring mineral fiber that can be classified into six different types:

  • Chrysotile
  • Amosite
  • Crocidolite
  • Tremolite
  • Anthophyllite
  • Actinolite

Each of these types of fibers was found to be excellent at fireproofing industrial materials, and they were used in countless industrial products until the 1980s. Inexpensive and readily available, asbestos was a preferred ingredient in insulation, paint, shingles, tiles, caulking and various other construction products.

However, even during the peak of industrial asbestos use, many health professionals were warning companies about the health risks that asbestos industry workers faced. Use of asbestos fibers continued on – unregulated – until the 1980s.

Why is Asbestos Dangerous?

Despite its popularity in the industrial world, asbestos is a class A carcinogen for its association with cancerous diseases.

Since the 1960s, asbestos has been linked to an aggressive cancer called mesothelioma. This primary asbestos cancer is typically terminal, spreading rapidly and causing disabling side effects until it has reached its final stage.

Asbestos is also known to cause ovarian cancer, laryngeal cancer and lung cancer, with up to 4 percent of all lung cancer cases having a link to asbestos. Other several studies suggest a link between asbestos exposure and gastrointestinal cancer and colorectal cancer, while asbestos may also be associated with the following cancers:

  • Kidney cancer
  • Esophageal cancer
  • Gallbladder cancer

In addition to these cancers, asbestos can cause conditions such as asbestosis (a progressive scarring of the lungs), pleural effusions and pleural plaques. Asbestos exposure can also cause lung damage that makes existing cases of COPD worse than they already are.

How Does Asbestos Cause Disease?

Asbestos exposure – when someone either inhales or ingests asbestos fibers over an extended period of time – can lead to the development of these diseases.

Because asbestos fibers break apart very easily and any sort of disturbance can release them into the air, asbestos exposure can occur any time asbestos (in its natural form or in a finished product) is handled.

Once asbestos has been inhaled, the thin, sharp fibers can easily become lodged within the body. Over time, the fibers cause scarring, inflammation and biological changes that can lead to cancerous and non-cancerous diseases.

For some illnesses, these changes can occur over a period of years, with a latency period of up to 50 years for pleural mesothelioma. As a result, anyone who has been exposed to asbestos during their lifetime should consider regular screenings for asbestos-related diseases.

Faith Franz

Guest Writer

Blue Planet Green Living (Home Page)

Author bio: Faith Franz is a writer for the Mesothelioma Center. She combines her interests in whole-body health and medical research to educate the mesothelioma community about the newest developments in cancer care.

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June 16, 2009 by  
Filed under Asbestos, Asthma, Blog, Cancer, Front Page, Health, Industries


HAZ-MAT workers properly dispose of asbestos. Photo: © Bernard MAURIN - Fotolia.com

HAZ-MAT workers properly dispose of asbestos. Photo: © Bernard MAURIN - Fotolia.com

In recent years, there has been a great deal of national attention focused on the improvement of industrial environmental standards. Even as we attempt to rebuild our economy, we seem to be focused on not only restoring industry, but also using this as an opportunity to do it in a way that is not environmentally destructive. This provides us, the Mesothelioma and Asbestos Awareness Center (MAA Center), and many others the opportunity to improve all aspects of these industries, including the workplace hazards among workers and the all-too-common health hazards affecting members of the surrounding communities.

What many people may fail to realize is that not only does the health of our planet depend on improved environmental standards, but our own health may depend on them as well. Health complications of industry can essentially be divided into two categories, direct and indirect.

Direct health conditions, which have arisen as a result of the burning of fossil fuels, for instance, are increased asthma rates in areas with high smog indices. Even mild cases of asthma can deteriorate overall respiratory capacity over time and leave breathing seriously diminished if the quality of the air people breathe is unimproved. Release of chlorofluorocarbons into the atmosphere has been shown to lower our filtered sunlight, thereby increasing ultraviolet light exposure. Ultraviolet light has been conclusively linked to skin cancer. Perhaps it is no surprise then that skin cancer incidence in countries like South Africa and Australia, where the atmosphere is most diminished, is much higher than in other areas of the earth.

HAZ-MAT use extreme protection when working with asbestos. Photo: © Bernard MAURIN - Fotolia.com

HAZ-MAT workers use extreme precaution when handling asbestos. Photo: © Bernard MAURIN - Fotolia.com

Indirect health consequences include those which can be attributed to antiquated industrial infrastructure, including toxin exposure among workers. Oil refinery workers, for instance, are shown to have a much higher chance of developing mesothelioma cancer — a rare disease caused by exposure to asbestos — than those in cleaner industries. While asbestos was banned for most uses in the late 1970s, several of these refineries and factories are still using pre-ban equipment, which is exposing workers to harmful asbestos fibers.

Asbestos exposure is an even more present danger in countries that lack environmental regulations on par with those of the United States. Several of these countries, including Israel and others in the Middle East, have noted, in recent years, a disturbing trend in the rise of asbestos-related disease. Countries with older or antiquated infrastructures are considered those with the biggest asbestos risk pool, as asbestos can still be found in nearly 80% of all structures built prior to 1980. The generational surge in infrastructure improvements, while good for economic growth and stability, may be endangering contractors and municipal workers who encounter the material.

We must continue to urge national and international institutions to improve asbestos regulations and worker safety standards to prevent this problem from growing.

There is a clear advantage to implementation of cleaner, more sustainable energy policies and environmental attitudes, not only for the health of our planet and our posterity, but for that of the world’s population even today.

Bill Hawthorne
Guest Columnist
Mesothelioma and Asbestos Awareness Center (MAA)

Blue Planet Green Living (Home Page)