Exposure to asbestos is responsible for up to 9 out of 10 mesothelioma cases. There are thought to be other rare causes of the disease but none are fully understood at this time. The disease has been described in medical literature since 1870 although the first suspicion linking asbestos and mesothelioma did not appear in the UK. until 1935 and a definite link was not reported until 1960.
What is Asbestos?
Asbestos is a natural fibrous mineral that is widely distributed in nature. Its name derives from the Greek meaning ‘inextinguishable’, which suggests its ability to resist heat and fire have always been understood. It is the ability to resist heat and fire that resulted in asbestos being used widely in industry, shipbuilding and construction particularly during and after World War II.
Currently the largest producers of asbestos are Russia, China and Canada. Russia and China use a majority within their own country however Canada dominates the export market.
There are three main types of asbestos, blue (crocidolite), brown (amosite) and white (Chrysotile).
They are all harmful but blue and brown asbestos are recognised as the most hazardous and have not been imported into the UK since 1985. However, they are still present in buildings and equipment built or produced before the ban. White asbestos was banned in the UK in 1999.
It is asbestos dust or airborne fibres, which cause harm when inhaled or ingested. Asbestos materials left undisturbed probably pose no significant threat. Asbestos fibres are very fine and if they are breathed in they can reach the smallest areas of the lung where they cannot be breathed or coughed out. Once they have lodged in the lung the body’s defence mechanism tries to break them down and remove them which leads to swelling and inflammation in the surrounding area. The fibres can also penetrate the edge of the lung and settle in the pleural lining. The fibres can also be swallowed and in a similar way can lodge in the abdomen and work their way to the peritoneum that lines the abdomen where the same swelling and inflammation can occur.
If you have been exposed to asbestos at any time you are potentially at risk although it should be made clear that the majority of people who have been exposed to asbestos dust do not suffer ill health as a result. There is no way of identifying who or why some people go on to suffer and others remain unaffected.
Generally, asbestos is only a risk if you disturb or damage it and cause fibres to be released into the air. If asbestos containing materials are in good condition and in a position where they are not going to be disturbed or damaged then it may be safer to leave them where they are and ensure that any risks are properly managed. Professional advice should be sought.
Asbestos was used in many different products and buildings from the 1950s to the mid 1980s. Many homes may, therefore, contain asbestos containing material.
If you are concerned about asbestos in the home, and the potential removal of it, you should contact the Local Council in your area. They will be able to provide professional advice.
Alternatively to find a builder for asbestos removal visit www.fmb.org.uk (Federation of Master Builders) or alternatively, the Asbestos Removal Contractors Association (ARCA) can also recommend someone. Their website is www.arca.org.uk