Asbestos is the name given to a family of minerals which are mined mainly in South Africa, China, Canada and Russia.
There are three main types of asbestos; Crocidolite (blue), Grunerite (brown) and Chrysotile (white). Very small asbestos fibres are known as ‘respirable asbestos fibres’ which can penetrate very deeply into the lungs and remain there causing reactions that can lead to Asbestosis, Lung Cancer and Mesothelioma
Respirable asbestos fibres are not visible with the human eye and can only be identified by microscope
Asbestosis is a hardening of the lung tissue causing loss of lung function. It is generally accepted that asbestosis is caused by extended exposure to asbestos. It is not caused by occasional, accidental or environmental exposures.
The cancer (change in cells) occurs in the upper bronchii. The prognosis for the cancer is generally not good. However, it can often be treated surgically if detected early. There is usually a latency period of 10 – 20 years.
The relationship with cigarette smoking is very clear. With the two carcinogens together the risk of lung cancer is enhanced by factors of up to 50 times higher.
Mesothelioma is a rare cancer of the lining of the chest cavity, pleura or of the lining to the abdomen, peritoneum.
Sufferers will have severe pain on breathing. Mesothelioma cannot be treated by surgery.
The latency period following exposure to asbestos can be 25-30 years
Current annual death rate from asbestos-related diseases is approximately 4500 in the UK. This is more than deaths on roads.
If asbestos is in good condition and unlikely to be disturbed it is generally considered suitable to leave in place. Damage to asbestos must be avoided, this could include:
- Breaking through asbestos insulating board firebreaks
- ‘Kick’ damage to asbestos insulating board
- Breaking asbestos cement boiler flues
- Vandalism to asbestos ceilings
- Drilling through textured coatings
- Scraping old paint from asbestos soffits