The History of Asbestos

Asbestos has been used by mankind for several thousand years, with the earliest written reference to asbestos being dated to approximately 300 B.C. There are also many documented references from the Roman Empire. The use of asbestos in building materials accelerated in the 1890's. The advancements in refining and manufacturing enabled the use of asbestos to expand to hundreds of industrial and commercial applications. And while these asbestos-containing products were (and still remain) some of the best available for their respective uses, this increased use of asbestos has enlarged the size of the population exposed to asbestos. The health effects associated with occupational and non-occupational asbestos exposure can create severe human diseases. Although asbestos continues to be used worldwide.

Asbestos Related Frequently Asked Questions

What Is Asbestos ?

The term 'asbestos' refers to a group of naturally occurring silicate minerals. The most common types of asbestos minerals in this group are chrysotile, amosite, crocidolite, tremolite, anthophyllite, and actinolite. The first three listed (chrysotile, amosite, crocidolite) are the primary varieties used in commercial and industrial applications. Characteristics such as heat resistance, insulating abilities, fireproof, and chemical inertness, coupled with the flexibility to be woven make asbestos suitable for use in many applications.


How might I be exposed to asbestos?

While asbestos can enter the environment from weathered natural mineral deposits, our greatest concern for exposure in the workplace is fibre releases from manmade asbestos containing materials. Asbestos containing materials (ACM) include such products as floor tiles, adhesives, roof shingles, cements, acoustical and structural insulations, plumbing and electrical insulations, and automotive brakes. Asbestos fibres may be released into the air when these products are disturbed.


How do asbestos fibres enter and leave the body?

The greatest concern regarding asbestos exposure is airborne asbestos fibres. Breathing asbestos containing air into the lungs will create the greatest potential for asbestos related disease. Some of the asbestos fibres reaching the lungs are exhaled as we breath, and others are coughed from the lungs with mucous, but the fibres reaching the deepest air passages of the lungs can produce the greatest damage.

The digestive system can be exposed to asbestos fibres from drinking water, mucous cleared from the lungs, and from eating food on which airborne asbestos fibres have settled. A small number of fibres may penetrate the cells that line the digestive system, but only a few will reach the bloodstream and be eliminated in the urine. Those fibres remaining in the digestive tract cells create a potential for asbestos related disease.

( Asbestos fibres contacting the skin rarely pass through the skin into the body )


How Can Asbestos Affect My Health?

Information on human health effects of asbestos comes mostly from long-term studies of people (primarily miners, manufacturing workers, and construction trade workers) exposed to asbestos in the workplace. Persons who breathe in asbestos may develop a slow build-up of scar-like tissue in the lungs. This condition is called asbestosis. This scared tissue impairs the ability of the lungs to absorb oxygen for the body. This is a serious disease and can eventually lead to disability, and death. Persons who breathe in asbestos also have increased chances of developing two types of cancer: Lung cancer starts within the respiratory tissues, and mesothelial cancer grows from the membranes that surround the lungs and abdominal cavities. Both lung cancer and mesothelioma are usually fatal. These asbestos related diseases will not appear immediately, but may take from 10 to 50 years to develop following exposure.

Does exposure to asbestos mean I will develop an asbestos-related disease?

NO. Asbestos exposure and disease is much like smoking and smoking related disease. The exposure increases the risk, but does not automatically mean that an individual will develop a related disease. Many people smoke for years, even a lifetime, and develop no smoking related disease. Others smoke for only a short period of time, yet develop a serious disease quickly. Asbestos exposure and related diseases mirror these examples. However, it does appear that exposure to high amounts of asbestos through either long term exposure and/or high concentrations is more serious. Research is currently underway to better determine the risks of short term and low concentration exposure to asbestos.

Is there a medical test to determine whether I have been exposed to asbestos fibres?

The most common test used to determine if you have been exposed to asbestos is a chest x-ray. The x-ray cannot detect the asbestos fibres themselves, but can detect early signs of lung disease caused by asbestos exposure. A pulmonary function test (PFT) determines lung capacity, and is another useful test in determining early signs of lung disease.

Periodic medical examinations including a chest x-ray, PFT, and a review of asbestos-based risk factors can be effective. Asbestos risk factors include length, levels, and frequency of asbestos exposure and smoking history. The combined impact of cigarette smoking and asbestos fibre exposure greatly increases the chances of lung disease.

Should I be alarmed when I see a warning for asbestos?

Keep in mind that "warnings" are everywhere - in small print on the back of over-the-counter medications, on the side of every fuel pump at the service station, on a tag at the end of every new hair blowdryer, and even on the plastic bag placed over our clean clothes at the dry cleaners. You should not be "alarmed" by warnings. Respect warnings, including asbestos warnings, and understand that the purpose of the warning is informational
that a danger may exist
( if the item is misused or mistreated )

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© Chewy's Urban Exploration - 2008