Asbestos weighs almost nothing and doesn’t burn, degrade, or react to chemicals, making it practically indestructible and irresistible to manufacturers.
In the workplace, asbestos can be found in: home insulation, pipe and boiler insulation, heater register tape and insulation, joint compounds, patching and spackling compounds, fire protection panels, artificial fireplace logs or ashes, fuse box liners, gypsum wallboard, textured paints, sheet vinyl or floor tiles, underlayment for flooring and carpets, textured acoustical ceiling and roofing shingles.
Asbestos is composed of tiny fibers that can float into the air like dust and are easily inhaled or ingested. The microscopic fibers have no odor or taste and cause several deadly diseases such as asbestos cancer and mesothelioma, a fact which makes asbestos awareness crucial for the workplace.
Asbestos in the United States:
Despite the growing knowledge of the dangers of asbestos, public protest against the mineral did not start until the late 1960’s. The most toxic asbestos site in the U.S. is located in Libby, Montana. This vermiculite mine ran from 1920 to 1990, exposing workers and residents to the toxic asbestos dust.
Asbestos in Canada:
The 20th century saw a boom of asbestos mines in Canada. At the time, more than 4,000 household products were being produced with asbestos. By the 1970s, doctors deemed the asbestos mining towns in Canada to be among the most dangerous cities in the world. While most countries in the European Union have banned all types of asbestos products, Canada continues to fight the universal ban, attempting to hold onto the profits of the asbestos mining industry.
Asbestos in Australia:
Asbestos was discovered in Western Australia in 1937. Australia began to regulate the use of asbestos products in the late 1970s. The use of crocidolite, or “blue asbestos,” now known to be the deadliest form, was banned in 1967, while the use of amosite, or “brown asbestos,” continued until the mid 1980s. The ban on chrysotile, “white asbestos,” traditionally considered less lethal than the other forms of the mineral, did not come until the end of 2003. Today, the incident rate of mesothelioma in Australia is one of the highest reported rates in the world; the majority of these cases are linked to the exposure of asbestos.
Asbestos in the United Kingdom:
With the growing awareness of the danger of exposure to asbestos, prohibition laws were first introduced in the UK during the mid 1980s. In 1985, the UK banned the import and use of both blue and brown asbestos. This rule was replaced in 1992 with a law that also banned various uses of white asbestos. In 1999, the government decided, with no exceptions, to ban the use and import of white asbestos as well.
How to protect yourself:
- Asbestos Inspections: By law, before construction or demolition work is done on a building older than the late 1970s, trained asbestos workers must be hired to perform an asbestos inspection
- Train employees in Asbestos Awareness
- Know the health effects of being exposed to asbestos
- Acknowledge warning signs stating asbestos could be present
- Seal cracks and holes in insulation
- Use hand tools instead of power tools in potentially contaminated areas
- Wear a mask at all times
- Don’t sweep up debris; use a vacuum cleaner or wet rags