Everyone has heard of asbestos and almost everyone knows that it can be very very dangerous to your health. But more than that? Most people have no clue. It is just a substance with which there is a bad association but little actual knowledge. Asbestos has been on a quite a journey over the last one hundred years, from a substance that was widely used in all sorts of materials and products, to a pariah that is loathed for the slow and painful death that it has brought to those who have worked with it. To help put it all into context, here are a few things that you might never have known about asbestos.
In the air tonight
In terms of being exposed to asbestos it is most likely that this will happen through the air. The reality is that there are small amounts of asbestos fibres in almost any air sample that you might take. The fibres in these amounts are not harmful and they have probably been present in the air in minute quantities since the dawn of time. It is around construction sites and mines where the substance is worked with that the levels rise and where asbestos air monitoring is essential. In most developed countries this sort of monitoring is required to prevent the normal levels from rising dangerously high.
Items that contain asbestos fibres which are in good condition are not an issue. In other words, if you have an asbestos roof or asbestos heater, you don’t need to destroy it or throw it away. In fact, destroying it is the worst thing that you can do. It is the very act of destroying it that will release the dangerous fibres that wreak havoc with lungs. So, if you have asbestos in the home, play it calm and let it be, certainly for as long as the product is in solid working order.
Asbestos does not discriminate, and it can get to anyone. The cancer that it causes is called mesothelioma and it is not reserved for miners or people working in industrial warehouses. In fact, a number of famous people have been taken by this terrible disease including the legendary Hollywood actor Steve McQueen. The Magnificent Seven actor, who was one of the world’s highest paid actors in the 1970s, is thought to have been exposed to asbestos during his time in the army and also as a race car driver – where he would have worn a fire-retardant suit that contained asbestos. Another famous person to be claimed by the disease was the award-winning jazz musician and founder of The Crusaders, Joe Sample.
Asbestos is not only carried in the air, it can also be found in water. Typically, the presence of dangerous substances and chemicals in water is controlled, but sometimes asbestos fibres can escape into water through decaying pipes. The fibres can easily be removed from the water with a filter, but if they are consumed then they can be just as dangerous as inhaling them.