ASBESTOS

Asbestos - The facts

Asbestos refers to a set of six naturally occurring fibrous minerals: chrysotile, crocidolite, amosite, anthophyllite, tremolite, and actinolite. Among these, chrysotile and amosite asbestos are the most common.

Although asbestos fibres are microscopic in nature, they are extremely durable and resistant to fire and most chemical reactions and breakdowns. These properties of asbestos were the reasons that supported its use for many years in a number of different commercial and industrial capacities. The strength of asbestos, combined with its resistance to heat and other chemicals, allowed it to become the material of choice in a variety of products, including, but not limited to, roofing shingles, floor tiles, ceiling materials, cement compounds, textile products, and car parts. However, asbestos is now strictly regulated as exposure to this toxic mineral can now be directly and scientifically linked to a number of lung and respiratory conditions including Mesothelioma.

What are the types of Asbestos?

The commercial production of amosite, or “brown” asbestos, ended within the last decade and this type of asbestos is no longer mined. It was at one time, however, the second-most commonly used form of asbestos and, as a result, many individuals were exposed to it during its peak use. Amosite was employed as insulation in factories and buildings, as well as both an acoustical and anti-condensation material. Its use has been banned in most countries for approximately the last 30 years.

The most common type of asbestos, and only kind that is still mined, chrysotile was the most widely used in the world’s developed countries. Estimates show about 90-95% of all asbestos that remains in buildings is of this variety. Because it was so widely used, it accounts for the most health problems. Chrysotile is most often used in fireproofing and insulation products and was widely used aboard Navy ships during World War II and the Korean War.

As an amphibole variety of asbestos fiber, tremolite asbestos is associated with the development of malignant mesothelioma and other asbestos-related cancers. Like other varieties of asbestos, tremolite asbestos is composed predominantly of magnesium and can range from off-white to a dark green in color. Tremolite is particularly common in vermiculite deposits. Tremolite-contaminated vermiculite was responsible for the death of hundreds of miners in Libby, Montana who worked at the W.R. Grace Vermiculite Mine.

Crocidolite asbestos accounted for about 4% of all asbestos once used.  Crocidolite occurs in naturally-formed bundles that are long, sharp, and straight. This “blue” asbestos is harder and more brittle than other types of the mineral and can break easily, releasing dangerous needle-like fibers that are easily inhaled. Crocidolite, without a doubt, is the most lethal form of asbestos. It was often used in making yarns and rope lagging, and as a reinforcement material for plastics.

Anthophyllite asbestos, also known as “brown” asbestos, is composed predominantly of iron and magnesium. Its fibers are known to be long and flexible. Of the amphibole subclass, brown asbestos can be found in many talc mines and has been associated with some respiratory disorders. It is not conclusively associated with mesothelioma as other varieties of asbestos are. Because of its rarity, anthophyllite was not often used in consumer products, but could be found in some cement products and insulating materials.

Actinolite asbestos is a variety of the subclassification of amphibole asbestos and, as such, its makeup and consistency is similar to other forms of this subset. Made predominantly of magnesium, actinolite asbestos is extremely rare and ranges in color from white to dark brown. Actinolite was not known to be used in asbestos products because of its rarity, but is known to be found in metamorphic rock. As with all forms of asbestos, actinolite is a known carcinogen that can cause mesothelioma cancer.

Asbestos - The health implications

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The use of asbestos sharply declined in the late 1970s when it became evident that asbestos posed a threat to human health and safety. Today, asbestos is classified as a known human carcinogen. The property of durability—which made asbestos so desirable to manufacturers —is that which makes asbestos hazardous. Asbestos fibers are microscopic (roughly .02 the diameter of a human hair), and therefore, are easily inhaled. Once inhaled, the fibers cling to the respiratory system, including the lining of the lungs and inner cavity tissue. As asbestos fibers are typically quite rigid, they become lodged in the soft internal tissue of the respiratory system and are not easily expelled or broken down by the body.

Hundreds of thousands of people were exposed to asbestos in some capacity as a result of the mineral’s extensive use in domestic, commercial, and industrial products. There is no safe type of asbestos and no safe level of exposure. Nearly all those with exposure history are potentially at risk of serious respiratory health complications.

There are three major lung conditions traced directly to asbestos exposure. These are lung cancer, mesothelioma, and asbestosis. Lung cancer risk, typically associated with tobacco use, is known to be exacerbated by exposure to asbestos. Symptoms include coughing, chest pain, and difficulty breathing.

Mesothelioma is a rare and aggressive cancer of the lung and inner body’s cavity lining—a thin membrane known as the mesothelium. Mesothelioma is typically recognized as the most clearly attributable disease resulting from asbestos exposure. Mesothelioma originates in three locations. Pleural mesothelioma forms in the lining of the lungs and is the most common form of the disease. Peritoneal and pericardial mesothelioma are less common and form in the lining of the abdominal cavity and lining of the heart, respectively. Although the prognosis for this disease is poor, treatment options are available.

Asbestosis is a degenerative and progressive non-malignant, long-term, respiratory condition. Asbestosis results from the formation of scar tissue plaques on the visceral surface of the pleura. Asbestosis can represent a precursor to the onset of mesothelioma.

Asbestos - The regulations

Asbestos was handled haphazardly for decades. Many people that encountered it on a daily basis while on the job were totally unaware of its toxicity; thus, no protective gear was worn to prevent inhalation. Furthermore, some employers who knew of the dangers of asbestos may not have shared this information with employees, allowing for asbestos contamination to become widespread—especially during the peak years of asbestos use from the 1930s through the end of the 1970s.

Today, however, there are strict guidelines governing the handling of asbestos. Those individuals who do not follow these rules are subject to fines and even imprisonment, depending on the extent of the mishandling. The Health and Safety Authority (HSA) has put these guidelines in place to protect not only those who handle asbestos as part of their job, but anyone else who may encounter the material at home, in school, in a commercial building, or elsewhere.

Although the use of asbestos in Ireland was essentially halted in the late 1980s, this toxic mineral has continued to have a real impact on the country during the last 30 years. The lives of many individuals have been adversely affected by previous asbestos exposure and this mineral can still be found throughout the country, particularly in old homes, factories, and commercial buildings. This continued presence of asbestos means that it is likely that more individuals will be impacted by the mineral in the years to come.

Asbestos – Occupations

There were hundreds of occupations affected by asbestos exposure. Asbestos was used in thousands of commercial products and industrial capacities and those working with the material in these industries were potentially at risk of harmful exposure. Industries in which asbestos use was particularly prevalent included shipbuilding, commercial product manufacturing, power plants, and construction. Workers employed in these industries prior to 1980 likely encountered asbestos products.

The following list of trades or occupations were extremely high risk for asbestos exposure. If you worked in any of these trades, you were likely exposed to asbestos throughout the duration of your career. Click on each occupation below to learn more about how exposure may have occurred:

  • Aircraft Mechanics
  • Car Mechanics
  • Blacksmiths
  • Boilermakers
  • Carpenters
  • Construction workers
  • Crane Operators
  • Drywall Tapers
  • Electricians
  • Firefighters
  • Industrial Plant Workers
  • Insulators
  • Iron Workers
  • Machinists
  • Merchant Marines
  • Millwrights
  • Oil refinery workers
  • Painters
  • Pipefitters
  • Plasterers
  • Plumbers
  • Power plant workers
  • Railroad workers
  • Roofers
  • Shipyard workers
  • Sheet metal workers
  • Steamfitters
  • Tile setters
  • Toolmakers
  • Welders

What products contain Asbestos?

While asbestos exposure is hazardous, not all asbestos products are inherently hazardous. Because asbestos must be inhaled to represent a health risk, only loose asbestos fibers or those in the air supply (a condition known as friable) represent a true hazard. Stable asbestos compounds, such as intact cement, tiles, or other products, are generally not an immediate hazard. Exposure to friable asbestos fibers was common when grinding, chipping, demolishing, or retrofitting asbestos products. Our extensive research has disclosed that asbestos was used in the following products:

  • Adhesives
  • Bonding Cement
  • Caulking
  • Cement
  • Duct Adhesive
  • Fibrous Adhesive
  • Finishing Cement
  • Furnace Cement
  • Joint Cement
  • Masonry Cement
  • Mastics
  • Mortar
  • Plastic Cement
  • Sealer
  • Topping Cement
  • Welding Rods
  • Asbestos Paper
  • Corrugated Paper
  • Flex board
  • Millboard
  • Permaboard
  • Rollboard
  • Vinyl Wallpaper
  • Brake Linings
  • Brake Pads
  • Brakes
  • Clutch Linings
  • Disc Brakes
  • Drum Brakes
  • Elevator Brake Shoes
  • Transmission Plates
  • Asbestos Board
  • Asbestos Sheets
  • Cement Pipe
  • Plastics
  • Stone Sheathing
  • Acoustical Plaster
  • Asphalt
  • Compound
  • Filler
  • Finish
  • Joint Compound
  • Paint
  • Patching
  • Plaster
  • Putty
  • Spackling Compounds
  • Boilers
  • Cables and Wires
  • Electric Boards
  • Furnaces
  • Generators
  • Heating Ducts
  • Pumps
  • Turbines
  • Valve Rings
  • Valves
  • Weatherproof Jackets
  • Wiring Insulation
  • Ceiling Tiles
  • Floor Tiles
  • Flooring
  • Tiles
  • Vinyl Floors
  • Wall Tile
  • Braided Packing
  • Gasketing Material
  • Gaskets
  • Packing Material
  • Rope Packing
  • Sheet Packing
  • Agricultural Filler
  • Attic Insulation
  • Baby Powder
  • Cigarette Filters
  • Crock Pots
  • Fertilizer
  • Fume Hoods
  • Hair Dryers
  • Iron Rests
  • Ironing Board Covers
  • Laboratory Hoods
  • Popcorn Poppers
  • Potting Mixtures
  • Stove Mats
  • Acoustic Panels
  • Panels
  • Marine Panel
  • Sheetrock
  • Wallboard
  • Block Insulation
  • Calcium Silicate
  • Duct Insulation
  • Insulation
  • Magnesia
  • Pipe Insulation
  • Preformed Pipe Wrap
  • Sponge Block
  • Tank Jackets
  • Aprons
  • Asbestos Helmet
  • Dust Masks
  • Glassblower Mitts
  • Gloves
  • Laboratory Gloves
  • Leggings
  • Mitts and Mittens
  • Respirators
  • Sleeves
  • Textile Garments
  • Asbestos Curtains
  • Asbestos Spray
  • Boiler Coating
  • Fire Blankets
  • Fire Dampers
  • Fire Doors
  • Fireproofing Cement
  • Fireproofing Materials
  • Insulation Jacketing
  • Metal Mesh Blankets
  • Textured Coating
  • Asbestos Fiber
  • Fake Snow
  • Raw Asbestos
  • Silicate Calsillite
  • Talc Powder
  • Transite
  • Vermiculite
  • Castables
  • Firebrick
  • Marinite
  • Refractory Cement
  • Refractory Products
  • Cement Siding
  • Flashing
  • Roof Coating
  • Roofing
  • Roofing Felt
  • Shingles
  • Siding
  • Stucco
  • Tar Paper
  • Asbestos cord
  • Asbestos Rope
  • Cork Covering
  • Sheet Rope
  • Tape
  • Wicking
  • Asbestos Blanket
  • Asbestos Canvas
  • Asbestos Cloth
  • Asbestos Felt
  • Asbestos Lap
  • Asbestos Wool
  • Asbestos Yarn
  • Lagging
  • Roving
  • Textiles

You can find out information pertaining to all aspects of Asbestos on the Health and Safety Authority website (HSA) website.  CLICK HERE

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