The Environmental Impact of Asbestos
Used in the past as a common part of construction materials, asbestos continues to pose major risks to human health and the environment. Once it was discovered that it caused health problems, products that contained asbestos were discontinued, but the risks remain. Read on to learn more about asbestos and the damage it can do.
What is Asbestos?
Asbestos is a silicon-based mineral that is found in various locations around the world. Some common types of asbestos are chrystotile, amosite and crocidolite, but the material is known generically as asbestos because for a long time, the worlds largest mine was located in the town of Asbestos in Quebec, Canada.
In the past, asbestos was used in all sorts of construction materials. Because it has flame-retardant qualities, it was often found around the heating systems of buildings, such as casings for hot water pipes, roofing shingles, insulation, vinyl floors, and ceiling tiles. It was also used in brake pads and clutch discs in cars.
However, when asbestos was found to be linked with several serious diseases, most of the Western world banned its use in construction and household materials in the early 1980's. But many buildings that predate this period may still contain asbestos.
Asbestos has been linked to a number of serious medical conditions. These all affect the lungs and respiratory system. That is because asbestos is made of tiny fibres that, when released into the air can settle inside the lungs and irritate the tissues in the chest cavity.
This irritation can cause a whole host of unsavoury medical conditions. Perhaps the most serious is mesothelioma, an aggressive and difficult-to-treat cancer that affects the tissues lining the chest cavity. For this reason, asbestos is classified as a carcinogen. In fact, the connection between mesothelioma and asbestos is so obvious that individuals have won asbestos compensation because they were exposed to this toxic agent through an occupational setting.
Besides personal health, asbestos has a negative impact on the environment. A study presented in 2006 at the international conference Health, The Environment and Justice found that asbestos dust can easily travel through the air into the water supply. It can also settle on the surface of the soil instead of getting absorbed into the ground, which means that it can still get picked up by the wind and inhaled into human lungs.
The study found that countries with a history of production and consumption of asbestos showed high incidence levels of asbestos-related diseases and pronounced levels of asbestos particles in the environment. This shows that asbestos can pose significant risk even after it has been banned in the countries featured in the study.
What You Can Do
If you are living or working in a building that was built during the 1970s, parts of it may contain asbestos. But this is not necessarily cause for worry. You should only be concerned if any part of the building is deteriorating or otherwise damaged. Once the material is damaged, the asbestos fibres can enter the air and either enter the lungs or seep into the water supply.
If you notice any damage, the next step is to section off the surrounding area to prevent others from encountering the asbestos dust. Then, make sure to contact a professional who has been certified to remove asbestos and has the proper protective equipment. This individual can ensure that all harmful substances are removed and that there is no lingering risk to you or the environment.