About Asbestos

Asbestos is a mineral fibre, which is mined from the ground. It occurs naturally. It is almost indestructible and has the properties to resist heat and acids. Two million fibres can fit on a pin head and 15 million miles of fibre in a cubic inch. It is light, durable and extremely strong. Therefore, it was thought to be an ideal insulation material. It was used very effectively against heat noise and electricity. It has the properties to be mixed with other materials such as cement to make a number of other products. These include wall insulation, pipe and hot water tank lagging, brake and clutch pads on cars, floor tiles and many other objects within industry and the home.

Types of Asbestos
There are six main types of commercially found asbestos, the three most common being:
1. Blue known as crocidolite.
2. Brown known as amosite.
3. White known as chrysolite.

Often it is impossible to distinguish the different types of asbestos with the naked eye. This is due to the colouring being affected by ageing, heat and mixing with other materials. In the UK, both blue and brown asbestos were banned from importation and use in 1985. It was not until 1999 that all use of asbestos was banned in the UK, although the total European ban did not come in to effect until 2004.

Levels of exposure
There are no safe levels of exposure. Any inhalation of asbestos dust can cause asbestos related diseases. Very low exposure has been proved to cause Mesothelioma; a rapid progressive type of lung cancer.

Pleura Plaques
Minor exposures to asbestos dust can cause areas of inflammation to the pleura. The pleura is the membrane enveloping the lungs and lining the walls of the thoratic cavity. Minor exposure to asbestos dust can cause areas of inflammation of the pleura. These areas of inflammation are called plaques. Plaques do not generally cause pain of breathlessness and can produce or show no symptoms but their presence can cause anxiety.

Diffused Plural Thickening
This is similar to pleural plaques but it affects more of the pleura. The membrane in the chest wall becomes thicker. This process can impair the function of the lungs. The symptoms are breathlessness and/or chest tightness and/or pain. This condition is usually caused by heavy exposure to asbestos.

Asbestosis
Asbestosis is caused by inhaling asbestos dust and shows up on X-rays as a type of fibrosis affecting the lungs. Fibrosis is the scarring of the tissue in the lungs. Pleural plaques, and/or pleural thickening can and may occur with asbestos, at the same time. There are differing degrees of asbestosis. This disease can degenerate although this is not always the case. The main symptoms are breathlessness with or without a cough. Smoking can heighten the condition.

Mesothelioma
This is a rare form of cancer of the lining of the lung (pleura). It occurs in a small number of people who have been exposed to asbestos. Most of the time, the disease will appear between 20 - 50 years after exposure. It is a rapidly progressive illness. There are different kinds of Mesothelioma and there is no effective treatment for them at the moment. There is clinical research ongoing throughout the UK. There is no known relationship between this illness and smoking.

Asbestos Related Lung Cancer
Lung cancer is a malignant growth in the lung, the bronchi (the air passages), of the trachea (the windpipe). People who had been exposed to asbestos have a seven times greater risk of developing lung cancer than those who have not been exposed. (Cancer Research UK)

Smoking
If you smoke and you have been exposed to asbestos dust, then you may have nearly twice the risk of developing an asbestos related disease compared to a non-smoker.

Types of Occupations where Exposure to Asbestos might have occurred
The use of asbestos in industry goes back nearly 100 years. The types of occupation that came regularly into contact with asbestos products and the airborne dust are listed below:
• Aerospace workers
• Architects
• Boiler men both in construction and maintenance of boilers
• Bricklayers in foundries
• Building caretakers
• Carpenters
• Car production workers
• Construction workers, all trades
• Deck Officers
• Demolition workers, all trades
• Electricians
• Engineers - heating, motor, marine, construction, chemical, electrical, mechanical
• Flax mill workers
• Foundry workers
• Laggers
• Masons
• Merchant marine seamen
• Motor mechanics
• Naval personnel
• Pipe fitters
• Plumbers
• Power station workers
• Railway workers
• Sheet metal workers
• Ship yard workers
• Spouses and partners of exposed workers
• Steamfitters
• Telecommunication maintenance workers
• Welders
• Window fitters

There are cases where exposure has been identified in schools, hospitals, offices and in the home.

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