Asbestos is a naturally occurring mineral that falls under the fibrous silicate minerals group. The use of asbestos dates from way back in ancient times to reinforce earthenwares such as pots and utensils for cooking. In the early 1850s, asbestos was largely produced by mining and used for manufacturing fabrics, papers and construction materials. Asbestos has a lot of uses because of its distinct characteristics like resistance to heat, fire, and electricity. It can also absorb sound and be easily broken to make asbestos-based products.
However, several studies conducted around the early 1900s recognized the risk of asbestos to the human body, particularly to the internal body system. Probably the greatest of these risks is that lung-related problems and cancer are linked to prolonged exposure of asbestos. In the year 2003, 17 countries prohibited the use of asbestos for the manufacturing industry to promote healthier and safer working conditions. And by 2005, all countries under the EU (European Union) banned the use of asbestos in any application.
Types of Asbestos and Its Products
While some countries have put a restriction or total ban on using asbestos, several regions around the world are still using asbestos for industrial purposes. The two main types of asbestos are amphibole and chrysotile.
The amphibole asbestos has thin and straight fibers that come in different types. The crocidolite and amosite (commonly known as blue and brown asbestos respectively) are common types of amphibole asbestos.
The chrysotile asbestos has a spiral microscopic structure. The chrysotile asbestos is the most commonly used type asbestos for industrial and manufacturing applications which are known as serpentine or curly asbestos.
Asbestos has a great contribution in many industrial products and processes. Here is a list of common things you might come across daily that contains asbestos:
- Sealants and adhesive
- Construction materials
- Asbestos cement
- Talc or talcum powder
- Consumer products
- Automotive parts
How Asbestos Enters and Affects the Human Body
As you can see, asbestos may be present in your daily environment, which can pose several health risks. The most common way asbestos enters the human body is through swallowing and inhaling it. Here are the details:
· Swallowing Asbestos
Asbestos fibers are microscopic in nature which can be easily swallowed along with contaminated food or water. Eroded asbestos deposits that go into the natural bodies of water or cement pipes made with asbestos are the usual carriers that cause cross-contamination.
· Inhaling Asbestos
The most dangerous way of acquiring asbestos is by inhaling it. Most workers who are related to processing and mining of asbestos, manufacturing products with asbestos, and fireproofing and insulation businesses have a greater chance of inhaling asbestos. Demolition and renovation jobs also contain a higher risk of exposure to asbestos, especially for older buildings or properties.
Most asbestos that occurs naturally in the air contains a very low level of fibers in it. However, it may vary and can possibly go higher due to the asbestos content of rocks that eroded, which are the main source of naturally occurring asbestos in the air.
Many studies and research were conducted in the past to verify the risk of asbestos and found that prolonged and heavy exposure to asbestos may cause cancer and other different diseases. This is why people who worked in the asbestos industry showed a higher chance of developing cancer.
Large asbestos fibers often stick to the larynx, pharynx, and trachea and goes all the way through the bronchi (the bigger breathing tubes of the lungs. While the tiny fibers can go as far as the smaller airways or tubes up to the pleura (the lung and chest wall), these fibers can still cause irritation to cells of the lungs. This irritation may cause cancer in the near future.
Types of Cancer Linked to Asbestos Exposure
As stated above, exposure to asbestos may cause cancer. Here are the types of cancer associated with prolonged exposure to asbestos:
- Mesothelioma Cancer – This is a rare type of cancer that originated from asbestos exposure. This cancer often forms along the lung and chest wall (pleura) and in the abdomen lining. There are also special cases in which this type of cancer forms on testicular glands and heart.
- Lung Cancer – Although smoking may be the number one cause of lung cancer, exposure to asbestos also poses a risk of having this disease. Around 5 percent of lung cancer cases are linked to asbestos exposure.
- Laryngeal Cancer – The microscopic fibers of asbestos that were stuck in the larynx (voice box) along with heavy drinking and smoking may lead to laryngeal cancer.
- Ovarian Cancer – Though there are debates ongoing with research, the connection of asbestos exposure to ovarian cancer has even reached the legal law. Many women claim that the used talcum powder or popularly known as talc powder, have an effect on developing this type of cancer. Although talc deposits are relatively similar to asbestos deposits, further studies and research are still needed.
It is certain that asbestos helped in advancing the civilization of ancient people and helped develop technological advancement in different fields. However, due to the health risks associated with its use, asbestos was banned from several regions around the world. The development of cancer diseases due to its exposure can be minimized by maintaining healthy lifestyles and using proper PPEs (or personal protective equipment) if the nature of your work relies on the use of asbestos.