What is asbestos? Is asbestos linked to cancer? Is asbestos exposure linked to mesothelioma cancer?
What is asbestos?
Asbestos refers to a set of six fiber minerals which include chrysotile, crocidolite, amosite, anthophyllite, tremolite, and actinolite. There are two main groups of asbestos minerals; serpentine asbestos and amphibole asbestos. Serpentine asbestos is commonly used in the textile industry as it can easily be woven, while amphibole asbestos is used in commercial applications.
Asbestos Uses for Insulating and Fireproofing
Asbestos is highly resistant to heat and has excellent capabilities in insulating and fireproofing. For these reasons, asbestos was widely used in making flooring materials, roof tiles, electrical insulation, ships, tanks, aircraft, steam engines, fabrics, etc.
The use of asbestos, as a building material, has significantly declined, due to its association with mesothelioma and other lung diseases.
Mining of asbestos
Mining of asbestos dates back to the 1800s it the Ancient Egypt, where the Egyptians used it to embalm Pharaohs and to make asbestos textile. Asbestos mining peaked between the 1960s and 1970s, and it was banned in the United States in 1989. Asbestos use continues in developing countries, India and China, though the International Ban Asbestos Secretariat has been strongly advocating for its ban globally.
Occupational risk of exposure to asbestos
There are more than 70 jobs that can expose one to asbestos. Occupations that have been hit the hardest include:
• Roof and tile setters
• Demolition crews
• Power plant workers
• Ship merchants
Asbestos in homes
Many homes built in the 1980s are likely to contain asbestos on the floor, ceiling, roof, or on water pipes. When asbestos materials at home are broken or damaged, they release asbestos fibers.
Asbestos transite pipes used for underground transport of water pose another risk. The asbestos from the pipes erodes and is then consumed in drinking water, putting people at the risk of peritoneal mesothelioma.
Asbestos-containing materials should be regularly checked to ensure that they are not damaged in any way. The only permanent solution to getting rid of asbestos in a home is by removal. However, asbestos removal can be deadly if not professionally done. The Environmental Protection Agency gives clear guidelines on how to deal with asbestos at home.
Family members working in asbestos-related industries may also bring asbestos fibers home on their clothing. Therefore, causing secondary asbestos exposure to other family members.
How is asbestos hazardous?
The most common entry route of asbestos to the body is by inhalation. Therefore, the respiratory system is the most affected. Because asbestos is hard to destroy, it stays lodged in the body tissues and at the end causes disease. The three top conditions linked to asbestos are mesothelioma, asbestosis and lung cancer. If swallowed, it can also result to peritoneal mesothelioma.
Mesothelioma as a Result of Asbestos Exposure
Mesothelioma is by far the most common consequence of exposure to asbestos. About 2% of all asbestos miners and 10% of all workers in asbestos-related industries have contracted mesothelioma.
Though there is no safe level of exposure to asbestos, a high duration, amount of asbestos and smoking increases the risk of contracting asbestos-related diseases.
Other cancers attributed to asbestos include cancer of the lungs, larynx, esophagus, and ovary.