The dangers of asbestos have now become general knowledge, and thankfully it isn’t used in construction today. However, buildings developed before the 1990s are likely to have some asbestos in them. Those who have asbestos in their home or workplace need to consider asbestos testing and asbestos removal for their health and the health of others. So what exactly is asbestos? What does asbestos look like? And why is it so nasty?
The origins of asbestos
Asbestos refers to six naturally occurring minerals that come from metamorphic rocks. It occurs in large deposits naturally in every continent but is quite commonly found in western United States. The name ‘Asbestos’ comes from the Greek word which means ‘inextinguishable’, as the material is very strong and resistant to chemicals, fire, and water. It also doesn’t biodegrade, decompose or dissolve in water.
Because of its resilient qualities, asbestos has been used in thousands of different products and building materials throughout the centuries. Historically it was used in cloth that was wrapped around Egyptian pharaohs to prevent their bodies from deteriorating. Other more recent uses of asbestos include: cladding, roofing, insulation, vehicle brakes, textured ceiling, and even oven gloves. However in 1984, importation of blue and brown asbestos in its raw form became illegal in New Zealand because of the growing concern around it’s effect to human health.
The three main kinds of asbestos
White asbestos (aka Chrysotile) - of the serpentine group of asbestos. It has curly, long fibres which are easily spun into fabrics. Because it is so versatile - this is the type commonly used in household products and construction.
Brown asbestos (aka Amosite) - of the Amphibole group of asbestos. This type has spiky, harsh fibres. Was commonly mined in Africa and used in asbestos pipe insulation or cement sheet. It is also commonly found in insulation, and ceiling tiles.
Blue asbestos (aka Crocidolite) - of the Amphibole group of asbestos alongside brown asbestos. It has thing, straight blue fibres. This was mostly mined in Australia, Bolivia and South Africa. It was popular for its heat resistance and repelling of water. Blue asbestos is also thought of as the most dangerous asbestos because of its then fibres. This makes it very easy to inhale and get lodged into a person's lung lining.
The health risks of asbestos
Asbestos itself isn’t harmful until it’s broken up or exposed as this is when the fibres release into the air. When it becomes airborne, it is extremely dangerous to inhale. As the fibres can be extremely fine, it’s hard for the lungs to remove them. It can cause serious problems including: asbestosis, lung cancer and tumours in the lungs & intestine. In NZ today, asbestos is the number one killer in the workplace with over 170 people dying every year from asbestos related injury.
Symptoms of asbestos-related diseases often don't present themselves for up to 20 years after initial exposure. These symptoms can be made worse if:
- Someone inhales more fibres
- Exposure to the asbestos happens over an extended period
- Exposure to asbestos is frequent
Pleural plaques typically take over 20 years to develop after a person is exposed to asbestos. These are fibrous thickenings on the lining of the lungs or the diaphragm. Usually these plaques harden over time - and while they don't always cause health problems, some experience discomfort or pain when breathing.
Asbestos fibres scar and irritate the lining of the lungs - causing scar tissue. This can lead to further complications like difficulty breathing and chest pain.
This is an often fatal lung disease which is the scarring of lung tissue which causes difficulty breathing and pain. This disease restricts the lungs from fully expanding during normal breathing - this progressively gets worse. There is currently no known cure for asbestosis. Those who are constantly exposed to asbestos, are more likely to develop asbestosis.
A fatal asbestos-related cancer which affects the thin membranes around the lungs, heart, abdominal cavities, and abdominal organs. Breathing in asbestos fibres lodges them in the tissue surrounding the lungs which damages the surrounding areas, eventually creating tumours. It can take between 20-50 years before mesothelioma symptoms present themselves to the victim.
To combat this risk to workers, the asbestos regulation of April 2018, will mean all properties going under renovation will need to be assessed for asbestos. Chemcare can provide asbestos testing and can safely remove asbestos from your property during renovation or demolition.
With this new regulation in place, asbestos removal will become a large portion of our work in the coming year. If you or someone you know has got possible asbestos in the property, contact us on 0800 800 646. Be safe, be sure with Chemcare.