The History of Asbestos – Health Sciences
There is an estimated 1.3 million employees in construction and general industry face significant asbestos exposure on the job. There is a lot of exposure to asbestos in the construction industry (Safety). This
is particularly during the removal of asbestos during renovation or demolition. Employees also are at risk during the manufacture of asbestos products and during automotive brake and clutch repair work (Safety).
Asbestos has been used for more than 2,000 years. Greeks used asbestos heavily for many applications, like wicks of external flames or funeral dresses for the cremation of kings, and things such as napkins (History). The use of asbestos declined during the Middle Ages. Asbestos use was brought back in the 1700s, but did not become popular until the Industrial Revolution during the late 1800s (History). It then began to be used as insulation for steam pipes, turbines, boilers, kilns, ovens, and other high-temperature products. Ancient observations of the health risks of asbestos were either forgotten or ignored.
Asbestos was used in over 3,500 buildings and consumer products (Asbestos). It was no doubt that at the turn of the twentieth century, researchers began to notice a lot of deaths and lung problems in asbestos mining towns. In 1917 and 1918, it was found by numerous studies that asbestos workers were dying at a high rate (History of Asbestos). In the 1930s medical journals began to publish articles that linked asbestos to cancer (History). The re-discovery of asbestos-related diseases was forgotten about for several years due to the emergence of silicosis (a lung disease caused by silica dust inhalation). The affected workers affected by asbestos diseases, brought $300 million in lawsuits against their employers (History). This served as a big warning to the asbestos companies, and afterwards they tried to hide the health effects of asbestos. Asbestos companies continued to use asbestos in manufacturing and construction. Despite that many materials, such as fiberglass insulation, were created to replace asbestos, companies that used asbestos ignored the safer alternatives (History). They simply denied the facts that asbestos was a hazard and ignored the problems. The conduct of the asbestos companies were especially egregious, however, because the victims were largely exploited workers who were unaware of the serious health risks they were exposed to on a daily basis (History).
Asbestos is the name for silicate materials that are fibrous in structure and are more resistant to acid and fire than other materials. It has two forms, serpentine and amphibole (What is Asbestos?). Asbestos is used for thermal insulation, fire proofing, electrical insulation, building materials, brake linings and has been used in numerous industries (What is Asbestos?). With asbestos, the fibers become so small that they become hazard and become undetected to the respiratory defense system. Asbestos’ ore form will initially divide in visible stands, fiber bundles, and individual fibers. Those visible strands, bundle, and fibers will continue to split into microscopic fibers. The splitting of the fibers is what making asbestos so hazardous.
Asbestos is known for being a potent carcinogen, that is, a cancer-causing substance, and is a serious health hazard. It is the known cause of pleural plaques, asbestosis, mesothelioma, and causes cancers of the lung, esophagus, and colon. Diseases caused by asbestos have a long latency period, usually taking ten to forty years before showing any symptoms of the disease (What Is Asbestos?). This is especially apparent today, when people who worked with installing asbestos as insulation and other materials in the 1970s are just now coming to realize that they are developing cancer at alarming rates. (What is Asbestos?).
Every kind of asbestos causes cancer and every kind of asbestos can cause asbestosis. Asbestosis is a progressive disease which may develop fully in 7 to 9 years and may cause death as early as 13 years after the first exposure (Asbestos). In many cases, though, the latency period is 20 years or more (Asbestos). When asbestos fibers (sometimes so small they are invisible) are inhaled, they lodge in and irritate the lung. This irritation sets up a reaction — an inflammation in the small air tubes and sacs of the lung. As the inflammation heals, it leaves scar tissue, called fibrosis (Asbestos). In the lung, this fibrosis causes the lining of the air sacs to thicken so that it is hard for oxygen to pass from the air into your bloodstream. Slowly, as the scarring progresses, the worker begins to suffocate (Asbestos). The lack of oxygen and hard breathing symptoms put a huge strain on the heart, so a worker suffering from asbestos may either die of suffocation or of a weak heart leading to heart failure (Asbestos). Once the process of fibrosis or scarring starts in asbestosis, it becomes a irreversible and is aggressive.
The most serious hazard of exposure to asbestos is cancer, and it takes less exposure to asbestos to cause cancer than to cause asbestosis (Asbestos). Two kinds of cancers related to asbestos are lung cancer and mesothelioma. Asbestos also causes cancer of the throat, stomach, esophagus, and bowel (Asbestos). Mesothelioma, cancer of the lining of the chest and the abdominal cavities, is an extremely rare kind of cancer and is almost always caused by exposure to asbestos (Asbestos). This cancer is incurable and there is no treatment (Asbestos). Gastrointestinal cancer is a general term for several different cancers of the digestive system. It includes cancers of the esophagus, stomach, colon, and rectum. These are thought to be caused by the swallowing of asbestos fibers (Asbestos).
Asbestos is recognized as a heal hazard and is highly regulated. OSHA and EPA asbestos rules are intertwined. This is in order to provide workers with the safest conditions when they are involved or working around asbestos. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration had provided three standards to protect workers from exposure to asbestos in the workplace (Osha). The first one covers construction work, including alteration, repair, and renovation and demolition of structures containing asbestos. The second one covers asbestos exposure during work in shipyards. The last one applies to asbestos exposure in general industry, such as exposure during brake and clutch repair, custodial work, and manufacture of asbestos containing products (IAQ). These standards comply with the fact that employers have to be put in safer environments and beware of the implications of safety standards applied. Employers are required to provide workers with protective clothing for workers. Employers must provide and ensure the use of respirators when a PEL is exceeded (IAQ). Effective October 11, 1994, the OSHA permissible exposure level (PEL) is 0.1 fibers of asbestos per cubic centimeter of air (f/cc) for an 8-hour time weighted average (TWA). The excursion limit is 0.1 f/cc for a 30-minute sampling period. Asbestos removal is not required and, in fact, federal regulators say they would like to see the asbestos stay where it is as long as the insulating material is wrapped and covered (Asbestos). Any worker who may come across loose asbestos must be trained on how to avoid disturbing the material and in some cases be provided with protective equipment such as respirators.
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What is Asbestos?. 2003-2006. Asbestos Resource Center. 9, Feb. 2006