In 1999, the use and distribution of asbestos was completely banned in the UK. However, despite the British government making the public fully aware of the dangers of asbestos, knowledge on the substance isn’t widely known. With it being used in every building project before 1999, the chances of a person coming into contact with it is high. In September 2018, concerns were raised for emergency workers and survivors who were exposed to asbestos after the Grenfell Tower fire. Risks like this are real, with over 2,500 people dying a year from asbestos-related diseases.
To become more familiar with this dangerous substance, here are five things you may not know about asbestos.
1. There are six forms of Asbestos
Most people think asbestos is a single material, however, it is actually the umbrella term for six different materials. These materials have similar properties including resistance to heat as well as being very strong and chemically inert. As a heavy duty building material, asbestos holds a variety of uses and is often used for thermal insulation.
Within the UK, you will find either white (chrysotile), brown (amosite) or blue (crocidolite) asbestos. The other forms (tremolite, actinolite and anthophyllite) are much rarer on these shores. This was because they weren’t used commercially.
2. Asbestos causes several medical issues
No matter which form of asbestos you encounter, all the fibres are dangerous to human health. Once asbestos fibres are inhaled into the lungs, they can cause huge health risks. The fibres are known to cause asbestosis, mesothelioma (cancer of the lining of the lungs), lung cancers and malignant pleural disease. These are the causes of over 2,500 asbestos related deaths each year in the UK.
3. Medical issues go undetected for years
The most dangerous aspect is the fact that asbestos-related symptoms are often not detected for 20 to 50 years. This means that those exposed may not know until it is sadly too late to cure. However, exposure to asbestos fibres does not automatically mean you will become ill, it just increases the risk of developing complications.
4. Mining of asbestos fibres is still happening
Despite many studies showing the dangers of asbestos exposure to human health, the practice of mining the fibres is still happening today. According to Chemistry World, Russia remains the top producer with one million metric tonnes being mined as recently as 2015. China mined over 400,000 tonnes while Brazil and Kazakhstan follow in third and fourth place, respectively. The biggest importers of asbestos are India, China and Indonesia.
5. It has been used in several unusual places
Asbestos can be found in a variety of unexpected places. In the 1930’s, toothpaste manufacturers used the fibres because of the abrasive qualities it possesses. Cigarette filter paper also contained asbestos for a while. In Hollywood, it was used as fake snow. If you watch The Wizard of Oz from 1939, you will see Dorothy, Lion and Scarecrow showered in asbestos snow – it was a regular thing for wintry scenes at the time. With many products containing asbestos, it poses a risk for anybody to find the substance in the home or at work where they least expect it.
How can I educate myself on the dangers of asbestos?
For the general public, reading materials online (including our blog) will help build an understanding of the risks and dangers posed by asbestos. For those who work on construction sites, the likelihood of exposure to asbestos fibres is greatly increased. To comply with health and safety regulations, an employer should send you on a regular asbestos awareness course to ensure that you are fully prepared to work with it. SSD Online Asbestos can provide these courses for you. Our courses have been approved by UKATA, RoSPA and IATP.
For more information on our online asbestos awareness courses, please get in touch with us.