Asbestos is a mineral that gained popularity in the late 1800s and was used in various industries, including auto parts, cement, and insulation. By the late 1980s, 27 million people were exposed to asbestos. Today, 1.3 million workers, particularly in construction and industry, are at risk, particularly in automotive repair and chloralkali manufacturing.
Worksites, demolition sites, schools, and old housing buildings pose significant risks.
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Types of asbestos
There are primarily six legally recognized types of asbestos. Studies have established that out of these, amphibole asbestos requires the least exposure to cause grave health issues like cancer. The other five types are:
Diseases Related to Asbestos Exposure
Asbestos fibers can easily get stuck in lung tissues after inhalational exposure, causing irritation of the lungs and potentially leading to numerous health issues. Oftentimes, these progress and become major diseases. Some of these diseases include:
- Pleural disease
- Lung cancer
- Ovarian cancer
- Laryngeal cancer
Health Risks in the US and Pennsylvania
Each year, 40,000 Americans die from Malignant mesothelioma, with Pennsylvania ranking third in asbestos-related deaths. That isn’t surprising when you consider that the town of Ambler in Pennsylvania was once considered an asbestos manufacturing capital of the world.
Pennsylvania was involved in industries like shipbuilding, mining, and manufacturing. This caused massive contamination by asbestos waste, exposing countless residents to dangerous levels of asbestos.
Countless industries since the 1930s have profited by selling asbestos to their customers without warning their workers of the associated health risks. No safety measures were employed, and massive sums were paid to researchers to deny responsibility.
It was only in 1960 that medical studies proved the association of malignant mesothelioma with asbestos exposure. Numerous industries have since been implicated in keeping the public in the dark and putting millions of Americans at risk of developing asbestos-related health diseases.
Thankfully, there are mesothelioma attorneys Pennsylvania working with residents to file claims with asbestos industries for compensation for medical bills, lost wages, and other financial concerns.
Ways to protect yourself
It’s crucial to know the locations in a home and a workplace where there is a high risk of asbestos exposure. Asbestos fibers are microscopic and remain suspended in the air for days. They are also indestructible by heat and chemicals. The level of exposure also depends on the percentage of asbestos added to different products. It is essential to ensure that buildings have notices posted to warn people of items that contain asbestos.
Asbestos is most dangerous when it is friable. Friability will increase when asbestos is subject to damage or deterioration or when it is disturbed through drilling, grinding, cutting, buffing, and sawing.
Asbestos is found in
- Fireproofing and insulation in buildings
- Boiler and pipe insulation
- Floor and ceiling tiles
- Putties, caulks, and cements
2. Regular medical checkups
Asbestos-related diseases have a latency period of 10 to 40 years. The risk of developing diseases also depends on the amount and duration of exposure.
Malignant mesothelioma develops because of chronic inflammation owing to asbestos fibers and the production of reactive oxygen species, which causes malignant transformation in mesothelial cells.
Since diseases have a long latency period, regular health checkups are important. Getting an X-ray and CAT scan will help doctors detect the disease in the pre-pathogenesis phase. Early detection could mean a range of treatment options and a good prognosis. However, prevention of asbestos exposure is obviously the best course of action.
Regular medical checkups also include getting routine vaccinations against flu and pneumococcal pneumonia.
3. Avoid smoking
If you are a smoker, then quit smoking. If you are a non-smoker, then avoid places where you are at risk of passive smoking.
While smoking might not directly contribute to the development of cancers like malignant mesothelioma, it increases your risk of other diseases like COPD and asbestosis. Continuous exposure to other carcinogens in cigarette smoke subjects your lungs to more damage and inflammation and increases your chances of developing cancer.
The natural clearing function of cilia in the respiratory tract progressively becomes impaired with the inhalation of cigarette smoke. This, combined with macrophages already attacking the fibers, aggravates the inflammation process and production of reactive oxygen species. As a result, genetic changes take place in cells, which can lead to the development of carcinoma.
4. Healthy diet
It is essential to take necessary precautions to prevent diseases from developing and progressing. One effective way of doing this is by maintaining a healthy diet. It is recommended to incorporate a variety of fruits, vegetables, nuts, and whole grains for a healthy and balanced diet.
A well-balanced diet rich in essential nutrients can help boost the body’s immune system and keep it strong. In particular, foods rich in Vitamin C, such as oranges, grapefruits, strawberries, and kiwis, are excellent antioxidants that can help protect the body against harmful toxins.
Apart from Vitamin C, Studies have shown that flaxseed lignan has a protective effect against asbestos-induced cellular damage. Other foods like whole grains, nuts, vegetables, and fiber contain essential nutrients that can help reduce inflammation and promote overall health.
5. Protection from Asbestos at Home
If you are residing in a home that was built before 1980, then you should avoid disturbing areas of your home that might contain asbestos, such as attic insulation, pipes, boilers, siding, and flooring.
Talk to a certified asbestos contractor who practices safe asbestos removal procedures if the material is deteriorating or needs replacement.
Before starting a renovation project, ensure that your home does not contain asbestos by sending a sample to a certified laboratory for testing. If the test comes back positive, use HEPA vacuums and wet cleaning methods to reduce asbestos levels.
6. Prevention at work
The Occupational Safety and Health Administration, or OSHA, has devised rules every employer must follow to ensure safety.
OSHA mandates that employers must develop a plan for minimizing exposure to hazards and safely removing them. Employers are responsible for conducting air monitoring in workplaces, particularly at construction sites and shipyards, to ensure that workers are not exposed to asbestos.
You should wear personal protective equipment and learn the appropriate handling of asbestos if your occupation requires you to be around it or handle materials that contain it.
Do not handle asbestos unless you are a professional who is certified to handle it. Display warning signs in high-hazard areas and cordon them off for certified professionals only. Unsafe work conditions should be reported to OHSA. Lastly, one should never perform asbestos work without proper training and certification.
Asbestos is a significant health hazard, particularly in the US, where the use of asbestos has not been entirely banned yet. Asbestos is still the leading cause of occupational deaths, so it’s essential to spread awareness and implement appropriate rules and regulations in workplaces to prevent harm to workers and those around them.