Asbestos – Health and safety risks

Asbestos refers to a group of six naturally occurring silicate minerals. All of these six silicate minerals are long, thin fibrous crystals with each fibre composed of millions of microscopic “fibrils” that are visible to the naked eye. These fibrils can be released by abrasion and other processes and are known by their colours, as blue asbestos, brown asbestos, white asbestos, and green asbestos.

Asbestos is generally manufactured as asbestos sheets and is used for electrical insulations, insulating material, in cement building material, floor tiles, water pipes, fireproofing, etc.

As much as a boon asbestos had been in the industrial era in the UK, it has equally proved to be a bane in today’s era.

Problems with asbestos started arising in the late 20th century and were first discovered in the UK.

Reportedly, the harmful effects of asbestos appear in three waves.

The first wave diseases happen to workers involved in the mining of crude asbestos and in the manufacture of asbestos products. The second wave diseases happen to workers using asbestos products; e.g. insulators, pipefitters, construction workers. The third wave diseases happen to plumbers, electricians, carpenters and refurbishment workers who deal with asbestos in situ.

Health and Safety Executive of the UK reports, that almost 5,000 people die each year due to asbestos diseases.

Asbestos starts to be harmful to the human body when any material containing asbestos (in the crude form or finished form) are damaged to the extent that the fibres start losing hold of each other and disintegrate. Problems to humans start when these fibres roam freely in the air and are inhaled by humans. The worst part is the fact that you won’t even know about the fact that you’ve inhaled asbestos and it would go undiagnosed for years, with the asbestos fibre sitting in your lungs for years. Over the course of time, asbestos-related diseases develop in the lungs and with the whole respiratory tract or even lung cancer for which there is no cure.

The most commonly caused disease by asbestos is Mesothelioma, wherein cancer (tumours) develop in the lining of the lungs (pleura) and in the lining surrounding the lower digestive tract (peritoneum). The other most widely caused disease by asbestos exposure is asbestosis, wherein the lung tissue gets scarred after prolonged exposure to asbestos. People working with asbestos regularly also face the disease of pleural thickening where the lining of the lungs (pleura) swells which causes shortness of breath. Other diseases include pleural effusions (pleural lining filling up with fluid), and even colorectal diseases.

Not only does asbestos target the human body, it is equally harmful to the environment.

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