Asbestos is known now as a toxic substance, but up until a few decades back, it was widely used in a lot of products. This went on until the late 1980s, when countries started banning it from use. Products that contained asbestos were promptly discontinued. Yet, as years went by, the risks that exposure to this toxic substance brought about are still at large, even though it has been decades since its use was banned.
But just what is asbestos, and how does it concern us and the environment?
Asbestos has insulating and fire-resistent qualities, which made it a popular component in building materials and household products. Before being halted from use, asbestos-containing products were commonly used to build homes and buildings. In general, those built before 1990 would almost positively have asbestos in its walls, roofs, floors, or insulating system.
While asbestos by itself is not harmful, the fibers that it releases into the air when it is disturbed has caused a number of health problems.
Threat to Human Health
Asbestos fibers are so tiny that when they are released into the air, they can stay suspended for a while before eventually settling on top of soil or ground. This means that once asbestos is disturbed, the air around it would be considered contaminated. Asbestos fibers can be easily inhaled into the lungs, where they can lodge onto the walls and remain for decades. Continuous exposure to asbestos would increase the number of fibers inhaled or ingested. Over time, serious chronic and possibly terminal respiratory diseases may develop, such as asbestosis, mesothelioma, or even lung cancer.
Threat to the Environment
Asbestos not only provides a threat to humans, it also affects the environment. Asbestos fibers are not soluble and do not easily pass into the soil, nor do they evaporate. They can remain on top of the ground or any outside surfaces for years before they are again disturbed and redistributed into the air where they can be easily inhaled by both people and animals. Animals actually can are also affected by asbestos when they are continuously exposed to asbestos fibers, which puts their health and population at risk as well.
Nowadays, asbestos is no longer widely used in common household products and materials, yet the risks that it poses to health and the environment is still present. If your job puts you in danger of being exposed to asbestos or other toxic materials and substances, protect yourself by being trained. The OSHA 40 hour HAZWOPER training, for example, aids workers in knowing what to do in case the danger of exposure to hazardous waste arises in the workplace.