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The Dangers Of Asbestos Fibres
The term "asbestos" refers to a collection of naturally occurring minerals. From the 1940s until 1987, asbestos was a popular building material in Australia. This was due to its heat and fire-resistant qualities and its ability to insulate well.
Australia had one of the highest per-capita asbestos consumption rates before it was phased out during the 1980s. A countrywide ban on asbestos, its imports, and all asbestos-containing products went into force at the end of 2003.
Asbestos is found in cement, pipes, insulators, floor tiles, adhesives, roofs, car parts like brake pads, textiles, and other things. In this article, we will uncover why this material is dangerous.
What Health Risks Are Linked To Asbestos?
When asbestos is disturbed, the fibres become airborne and can be inhaled. Long-term exposure to asbestos fibres can cause serious health effects, including lung cancer, mesothelioma, and other related illnesses and health risks. Asbestos enters the body primarily by inhalation.
Exposure to asbestos fibres raises the chance of developing lung, ovarian, and laryngeal malignancies, as well as mesothelioma (cancer of the lining of the lung). These tumours often emerge decades after asbestos exposure. Mesothelioma is a rare kind of rapidly developing cancer that is virtually always caused by asbestos exposure.
This condition presently has no known cure. Every year, between 700 and 800 people in Australia are diagnosed with mesothelioma, with the average period between diagnosis and death being only 11 months (AIHW, 2019).
Other asbestos-related disorders other than cancer include:
- Pleural plaques: Asbestos fibres generate enlarged regions of scar tissue on the pleura or lung lining.
- Asbestosis: Scar tissue grows inside the lungs, making breathing difficult.
Over 4,000 Australians die as a result of diseases related to asbestos each year, according to a 2016 report by the Global Burden of Disease Collaborative Network.
Preventing Asbestos Related Health Risks
You can always consult with your physician if you are worried about your health or believe you have been exposed to asbestos. There is a National Asbestos Exposure Register in Australia. The register's objective is to record potential exposure in case someone develops an asbestos-related sickness in the future.
Use a competent professional with sufficient training and expertise in asbestos identification to confirm the presence of asbestos. You should use a (National Association of Testing) NATA-accredited laboratory to test suspected asbestos-containing items. Use warning labels to indicate the presence of asbestos.
Use non-destructive, moist procedures when handling asbestos. During friable asbestos removal, saturation and water injection may be required.
Dry removal should be utilised only when wet spray procedures are ineffective (e.g., near electrical equipment). There may also need to be negative air enclosures, glove bag systems, and constant sprays of mist.
Sealing the asbestos
You have to cover, seal, and prohibit access to asbestos. Use only on non-friable asbestos where removal is impossible, and the asbestos is at risk of damage from work duties.
Wrap with a robust matrix or a protective covering to prevent asbestos fibres from being released. To prepare surfaces for sealing, never use dry sanding or water blasting.
Use hand-held or low-speed battery-powered tools. Exhaust ventilation dust control hoods should be installed on all low-speed battery-powered equipment. Use low-powered tools only to avoid the asbestos material flying around.
Restriction of access, the posting of warning signs, and the installation of barriers around asbestos work zones are all recommended. If you're working inside, shut the windows and doors. Install enclosures if necessary.
Notify others in the vicinity of asbestos work. Items that aren't needed should be eliminated while preparing the workspace to avoid contamination and make clean-up easier.
Utilise wet clean-up techniques (water misting or wet wiping only) and do not sweep materials containing asbestos. Utilise an approved asbestos vacuum (not domestic). Before reoccupation, a clearance inspection certificate is required for commercial asbestos removals.
Make asbestos waste wet for disposal. Double-bag or wrap in polythene bags (sheeting for large materials) no larger than 1200 mm in length, 900 mm in width, and 0.2 mm in thickness. For bags, seal with tape using the "gooseneck" method.
Half-fill trash bags to prevent tearing, and label them with cautionary labels. Before removal, clean the outside of bags or sheets. Place waste in labelled waste containers for safe storage and disposal, or remove it immediately with a licensed carrier.
Asbestos management plan
Implement a management plan to identify and manage asbestos threats in the workplace. Maintain a current register identifying the site of asbestos, including date identified, type, condition, locality maps, photos, drawings, etc. Ensure personnel are aware of the register and have access to it.
Educate employees on asbestos dangers, how to recognise them, and how to manage asbestos risks. Ensure that workers who work with or could potentially work with asbestos-containing materials receive adequate training.
Asbestos assessors, removalists, and supervisors must possess specialised training and licences.
Personal protective equipment
Individually fitted, air-supplied, or air-purifying respirators that filter asbestos fibres must be worn during the removal of friable asbestos. For non-friable asbestos removal, respirators of class P2 are required.
Use disposable coveralls with fitting hoods that prevent asbestos fibre penetration (type 5, category 3), impermeable gloves, gumboots (no laces), boot covers, and eye protection when removing asbestos. Tape the wrist and ankle openings shut.
Use a damp rag to clean protective apparel. Remove all PPE in a specific order, beginning with the coveralls, then wiping off and removing boots, gloves, and goggles. All clothes worn beneath coveralls must be discarded or bagged for laundering (e.g., emergency services clothing) if disposable clothing is unavailable. Last, remove the respirator.
All trash, wet rags, PPE, and cleaning supplies must be double-bagged, sealed, and labelled before being thrown away.
Develop a phased replacement strategy for all asbestos-containing materials found.
Frequently Asked Questions
Where is asbestos commonly found?
Asbestos was fundamentally used in the construction industry in tens of thousands of different products. Asbestos, which was widely known for its fireproofing properties, was a common ingredient in insulating materials.
Manufacturers added asbestos to these products to make them more durable and fire-resistant. Spray-on insulation was one of the most common ways that asbestos was used in the building business.
Workers sprayed these insulation products, which contained up to 35 per cent of a specific type of asbestos, onto steel columns, aluminium sheets, and other metal structures that required high-temperature resistance.
Who is at the most significant exposure risk?
The people at the most significant risk of acquiring asbestos-related diseases are typically those who have been exposed to asbestos regularly, most commonly through direct occupational exposure or extensive environmental contact.
Shipbuilders, pipefitters, insulation experts, laborers, plasterers, carpenters, destruction and demolition crews, roofers, and tile setters are some of the jobs people are most likely to enter regular contact with asbestos.
When is asbestos dangerous?
All forms of asbestos fibres are hazardous if inhaled. Some claim that some types of asbestos fibres are less hazardous than others. Experts, including physicians and scientists, have disproved this. Until proven otherwise, consider all asbestos bad for your long-term health. You cannot differentiate when asbestos is in the air or affecting your lungs because it comes with no symptoms.
Asbestos does not cause coughing or sneezing. It will not cause skin or throat irritation. Asbestos fibres are released into the air when asbestos-containing items are broken, disturbed, or improperly removed. Asbestos, when crushed, does not produce conventional dust. Asbestos disintegrates into fibres too small to see, touch, or taste. Asbestos fibers can be quantified when they're in the air.
The units used to quantify them are fibres per cubic centimetre of air (f/cc). A cubic centimetre is approximately the size of a cube of sugar. Air sampling is a method of collecting air samples and analysing them for asbestos fibres. Health experts have established 0.01 f/cc as the clean air standard. Asbestos is released into the environment when it is agitated into the air, which may threaten people. When entering such an environment, you will be exposed to fibres.
Many variables influence whether asbestos exposure will result in adverse health effects. They are the dose (how much), the duration (how long), the way you were exposed (by breathing, eating, or drinking), and the other chemicals you were exposed to. Individual factors may also play a role, including age, gender, diet, family history, lifestyle, and general health, which all play a significant role in figuring out overall health.
How much asbestos is harmful?
No quantity of asbestos is deemed safe. Asbestos is considered to be present in products containing more than 1% of asbestos minerals. More asbestos exposure increases the likelihood of developing an asbestos-related disease. Both asbestosis and lung cancer are dose-dependent conditions.
The more asbestos you're exposed to, the higher the chance of becoming ill. Mesothelioma is the only type of asbestos-related illness that differs from the others. Very small quantities of asbestos can cause mesothelioma. Families of asbestos workers have developed mesothelioma due to the dust the workers carried home on their clothing.
How long does asbestos take to cause illness?
All asbestos-related disorders exhibit a latency period. The latency period is the interval between exposure to asbestos and the onset of symptoms. The latency period for asbestos-related disorders ranges from ten to forty years. During the latency phase, you will not feel nauseous. After the latency period, you will begin to feel sick if you have an asbestos-related condition.
How can I know if I have been exposed to asbestos?
An x-ray of the chest is the most common method for determining asbestos exposure. The x-ray cannot detect asbestos fibres but can detect early symptoms of asbestos-related lung illness. Lung and computerised tomography (CAT) scans also help find lung changes.
What should I do if I think I've been exposed to asbestos?
Take the following measures if you suspect asbestos exposure:
- It's necessary to tell your boss if the exposure happened at work. Make sure they reduce the risk as soon as possible. If this doesn't pertain to you, report it back to your state or territory's occupational health and safety regulator.
- If the asbestos exposure occurred outside the workplace, contact your nearest council or environmental agency for advice on keeping yourself and others safe.
You could also schedule an appointment to see your primary care physician to discuss potential health concerns and get advice on any health assessments your doctor deems necessary.
Additionally, register your information with the National Asbestos Exposure Register (NAER).
Use A Reputable Asbestos Removal Company
Asbestos materials and products have been linked to many incurable diseases, and this necessitated the outright ban on the use and importation of asbestos products in Australia as far back as 2003. However, before then, materials containing asbestos have been used for different purposes, especially in construction.
Due to the risks posed by asbestos-related diseases, it is important to eliminate any material that has to do with asbestos. So, do you have any materials that contain asbestos around you? If yes, please contact a reputable asbestos removal company near you to assist you in getting rid of these toxic materials on time. A stitch in time saves nine!