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  • Writer's pictureNix Surban

Asbestos Awareness: Risks, Diseases, and Safe Handling Tips

What is Asbestos? 

Asbestos is a mineral with tough fibers that can handle heat, electricity and corrosion. Companies used it in building materials, insulation, fireproofing materials, brakes and more because of these properties.

Building materials contain asbestos because it’s an effective insulator. Asbestos in cloth, paper, cement, plastic and other materials makes them stronger.

**Asbestos has been found in thousands of consumer, industrial and commercial products.

Inhaling or ingesting asbestos causes fibers to become trapped in the body. Over decades, trapped asbestos fibers can cause inflammation, scarring and cancer.

Asbestos exposure is the primary cause of mesothelioma. Asbestos also causes a progressive lung disease called asbestosis.

Asbestos mainly comes from Russia, Kazakhstan and China. The toxic mineral was once mined throughout North America. Most commercial asbestos deposits contain 5% to 6% asbestos. Some deposits, such as the Coalinga deposit in California, contain 50% or more asbestos.

Types of Asbestos

The Asbestos Hazard Emergency Response Act of 1986 legally recognizes six types of asbestos. This law, H.R. 5073, was passed during the 99th Congress and requires warning labels on any friable (or easily crumbled) asbestos-containing materials still in routine maintenance areas of a school building.

**Asbestos comes in many mineral forms. All asbestos types cause mesothelioma.

The six main types of asbestos fall into two categories: amphibole and serpentine. The World Health Organization’s International Agency for Research on Cancer, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and the Environmental Protection Agency all classify each type of asbestos as a cancer-causing substance.

Amphibole Asbestos

Amphibole asbestos fibers are straight and jagged. They appear needle-like.

  • Actinolite

  • Amosite

  • Anthophyllite

  • Crocidolite

  • Tremolite

Data from research studies indicate amphibole asbestos can cause cancer with less amounts of exposure than with other types of asbestos. But all identified forms of asbestos can cause diseases.

Serpentine Asbestos

Serpentine asbestos fibers are curly. Chrysotile, also known as “white asbestos,” is the only form of this type of asbestos.

Asbestos-Related Diseases

Scientific studies link asbestos exposure to several diseases, including cancers. Mesothelioma is a type of malignant cancer directly related to asbestos exposure. Asbestos also causes asbestos-related lung cancer, ovarian cancer and laryngeal cancer.

Other asbestos-related diseases include:

  • Asbestosis

  • COPD

  • Diffuse pleural thickening

  • Pleural effusions

  • Pleural plaques

  • Pleuritis

Asbestos causes both benign and malignant diseases. While some asbestos-related diseases are classified as benign, they may have serious impacts on quality of life and can still be life-threatening.

Tips for Safely Handling Asbestos

Some jurisdictions allow homeowners to remove asbestos on their own. Follow these precautions if you are considering DIY asbestos abatement:

  • Seal off the work area with plastic sheets and turn off the air conditioning or furnace.

  • Wear a respirator with a high-efficiency particulate air (HEPA) filter.

  • Wear disposable coveralls and gloves during asbestos work.

  • Use a pump sprayer at all times to keep asbestos materials wet and suppress dust.

  • Clean the work area with wet wipes or a vacuum cleaner with a HEPA filter.

  • Dispose of asbestos waste in clearly labeled bags at a landfill that can accept asbestos.

In many situations that require the removal of asbestos-containing materials, it may be safer to leave the materials undisturbed or encapsulate them with a sealant. Consult a certified, local asbestos abatement professional for the best advice.

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