by Isobel Washington
The Occupational Safety and Health Administration of the U.S. Department of Labor describes asbestos as a highly regulated health hazard that threatens on-the-job exposure to roughly 1.3 million construction and general industry employees. Asbestos can cause significant health problems to a human being if an asbestos-containing material gets damaged somehow, and the tiny fibers containing asbestos become airborne. Asbestos disease has been an ongoing health concern in the United States, as many cases of asbestos disease have been reported.
Technical Explanation and Uses of the Asbestos Substance
Many naturally occurring, extremely high-strength fibrous minerals fall under the asbestos category. Asbestos contains varieties of chrysolite (serpentine) amosite, anthophyllite, crocidolite, tremolite and actinolite. It is a mineral fiber commonly used in many building construction materials and manufactured building materials, like ceiling and floor tiles, cement products and rooting shingles. Its strength in fiber and heat resistance make it effective in construction materials as an insulator and a fire retardant. Asbestos also has been used in the making of paper products, as well as automobile parts, such as the brake, transmission parts and clutch.
Where Asbestos Is Found
Asbestos has a long historical use in construction in the United States, which is the reason why "asbestos scares" can come as a surprise to workers and dwellers of old buildings with unknown construction material origins. While considered a dangerous health hazard, products are still manufactured with asbestos today, though these products are usually for fireproofing and insulation. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency released a synopsis of asbestos product categories in 1989, and found asbestos in roofing materials, pipelines, floor tilings, brakes, clutches and other construction materials and components of automobiles. Many people are unsure whether they have asbestos materials in their home, but the EPA warns that it is best to leave suspicious materials alone and call a professional asbestos inspector to check it out. Since asbestos is still used in construction, construction workers face exposure to the substance all the time.
Asbestos exposure highly increases the risk of lung disease. It is frightening that it may take up to several years for symptoms of lung disease caused by asbestos exposure to occur. The more the exposure to the substance, the higher the chance of suffering the harmful health effects of asbestos exposure. Effects are often deadly, even if not right away. Below are three types of diseases caused by asbestos exposure.
Asbestosis is a noncancerous lung disease caused by the inhalation of asbestos fibers that scar the lung tissue. The disease is progressive and long-term. The scarring of the lungs begins to inhibit the ability of oxygen to reach the blood. A wheezing, crackling sound during inhalation and shortness of breath, are symptoms of asbestosis. Unfortunately, there is no cure or treatment for this disease.
Mesothelioma occurs in the thin lining of the lung, heart, chest and abdomen, and is strongly linked to asbestos exposure. Like asbestosis, this disease may not show symptoms for years after exposure to the harmful substance. Mesothelioma is a rare form of cancer and can present a fatal outcome. This is the disease that has prompted many schools to hire professional inspectors to test for asbestos. The symptoms of this disease begin with difficulty breathing, which worsens over time.
Last, but certainly not least, is lung cancer, which causes the highest number of asbestos-related deaths. People of the milling, mining and manufacturing and construction fields with asbestos presence are at a much higher risk for cancer than the general population. The first signs of lung cancer are excessive coughing, hoarseness, a change in breathing patterns and inconsistent short breath. Chest pains and the development of anemia are other symptoms.
If you think you have been exposed to asbestos, or are worried about past exposure, see a doctor immediately for testing--preferably a lung specialist.
To test for asbestos in the home or school, contact The National Institute for Standards and Technology (NIST) for a list of accredited asbestos laboratories and inspection companies. The EPA suggest calling NIST at this telephone number (301) 975-4016.