What is Asbestos?
Asbestos is a naturally occurring silicate fibrous mineral, found in the veins of a rock host. The name comes from the Greek word meaning “unquenchable or indestructible”. Its incombustible, strength, and flexible characteristics when separated into fibers are the reason it was so popular to use in building materials. It is also effective as a reinforcing or binding agent when combined with cement or plastic.
Why is it so dangerous?
Asbestos becomes highly dangerous the moment dust is released and inhaled. Asbestos fibers can be split into extremely thin fibers parallel to their length, at their finest, the fibers can hardly be seen by the best optical microscope let alone the human eye!
When asbestos fibers are inhaled, they settle in the lungs. Once embedded in the tissue, the fibers remain in the body for a very long time. Three conditions have been linked to asbestos exposure;
“Asbestosis is a condition associated with exposure to high concentrations of airborne asbestos. It is an irreversible, fatal disease. The lungs build up scar tissue around the fibers in an attempt to remove them. This causes lung tissue to stiffen and leads to symptoms of coughing, difficulty in breathing, weight loss and eventually death. The disease is similar to silicosis and “black lung”, diseases associated with work in mines.
Once established, asbestosis is an untreatable condition. While elimination of further exposure to asbestos will not stop or reverse the disease, it will help to slow down the rate at which the disease progresses. Early symptoms of the disease – shortness of breath, often accompanied by a dry cough – usually develop to 10 to 20 years after initial exposure.”
“Lung Cancer takes approximately 15 to 25 years to develop, depending on the frequency and duration of exposure. Exposure to asbestos fibers for four to six months may be sufficient to cause lung cancer.
The combination of smoking and occupational asbestos exposure is extremely hazardous.”
“Malignant mesothelioma is a rare type of cancer affecting seven to eight persons per million population. Research has shown that exposure to asbestos increases the risk of mesothelioma of the pleura, the membranes that line the lungs, and of the peritoneum, a membrane which lines the abdomen.
Malignant mesothelioma has no effective treatment and is always fatal. One half of all patients die during the first year following diagnosis; few patients survive longer than two years.
Development of the disease does not appear to be related to the amount of asbestos inhaled. Some susceptible individuals develop the disease following exposure in non-occupational settings. Development of the disease has been found to occur in individuals exposed to asbestos for as little as two months, and for as long as 50 years. The latency period between exposure to asbestos and the onset terminal illness ranges from 15 to 55 years, with a mean of 40 years for both long – and short-term exposures.”
Publisher: Alberta Asbestos Abatement Manual.