Asbestos, the deadly minerals which had been deemed a wonder material by Ancient Greeks, has known unprecedented popularity throughout the last century. Plenty of major U.S. companies have exploited the numerous practical properties of asbestos, including the carcinogen in thousands of consumer products, from building materials to automobile components. Even though the terrible health effects had been suggested by multiple medical studies since the early 1930s, executives have gone to unbelievable lengths to conceal this compromising information from their employees. As a result, over 11 million workers have been exposed to high levels of asbestos on the job between 1940 and 1978, many of whom subsequently developed malignant diseases.
Nowadays, it is a well-known fact that asbestos exposure can cause lung cancer and mesothelioma, as well as serious non-malignant pulmonary diseases such as pleural effusion, asbestosis, and pleural plaques. However, nearly five decades after asbestos was officially declared a human carcinogen by several U.S. government agencies, including the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, the dangers of these naturally occurring minerals are still widely ignored. A significant number of companies continue to employ enormous amounts of asbestos despite being aware of its toxicity, while 75 occupational groups are at high risk for asbestos exposure.
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Asbestos is not entirely banned in the U.S.
So far, 55 countries have banned the carcinogen. Surprisingly, the U.S. is not among them, as it has not completely outlawed asbestos. Although asbestos mining is strictly forbidden, the import and the use of these hazardous minerals are still allowed. Over 8.2 million pounds of asbestos have been shipped to the U.S. between 2006 and 2014, according to an examination of federal trade records conducted by EWG Action Fund, while manufacturers are not legally prevented from including it in products which have historically contained asbestos. Nevertheless, new applications are forbidden.
There is no doubt the industrial employment of asbestos has considerably decreased since the 1980s. In spite of this positive change, the toxic minerals continue to be present in numerous workplaces, materials, and products, as well as in hundreds of thousands of old buildings, thereby posing a real threat not only to employees’ wellbeing, but also to public health. According to the American Thoracic Society, 1.3 million workers are regularly exposed to high concentrations of asbestos on the job at the moment.
Your house might not be safe either
Even though occupational exposure accounts for most cases of asbestos-related diseases, people can also be in frequent contact with these carcinogenic minerals in their own homes. Because asbestos has been extensively used in a lot of building materials, including ceiling tiles, roof shingles, wall boards, cement and insulation, houses which have been constructed before the mid-1980s represent a serious danger to the health of their inhabitants. When asbestos fibers become airborne, people can inhale or swallow them, which can later lead to the development of devastating diseases.
While new, undamaged asbestos-containing materials do not entail an immediate risk of exposure, old products are very hazardous. Over time, these products become more and more friable and consequently, fibers can easily be released into the air at the slightest disturbance (renovation projects, earthquakes etc.). You should never attempt to remove asbestos from your house by yourself, as the chances of contamination are very high. Only a certified asbestos abatement company will be able to safely dispose of the products and ensure your living space is asbestos-free.
Despite the limit set by OSHA, there is no safe level of asbestos
The 0.1 fiber per cubic centimeter permissible limit of exposure was established by OSHA solely as a safety guideline concerning asbestos in the workplace. According to the same agency, no concentration of asbestos is truly safe and exposure should be avoided at all costs. Employees whose job involves asbestos, regardless of the amount, are required to wear protective equipment and respirators to prevent contamination with fibers, while companies have the obligation to ensure the level of asbestos in the air does not exceed the permissible limit.
Although the risk of developing an asbestos-related disease has been demonstrated to increase with the dose and duration of exposure, people who have only occasionally been in contact with these carcinogenic minerals can be affected as well. Fibers accumulated in the lungs or abdominal cavity can produce severe inflammation, which may lead to the occurrence of lung cancer, mesothelioma or other similar diseases several decades after first exposure.
Nearly 5,000 consumer products have been manufactured with asbestos in the past and the minerals can still be found in numerous items nowadays
It is estimated that asbestos has been used for the manufacturing of up to 5.000 different products during the 20th century. Even though the heyday of asbestos is long gone, the carcinogen is far from being a rarely employed material at the moment. Roofing products represent approximately 60% of all asbestos consumption in the U.S., while the dangerous minerals can be encountered in some shocking places as well.
A safety investigation conducted by EWG Action Fund in 2015 revealed the presence of tremolite and chrysotile asbestos fibers in crayon sets and toy crime scene kits imported from China. Experts have analyzed 28 crayon sets, four of which were found to contain asbestos, while fibers were also detected in two crime scene kits several years later following another investigation.
The issue of asbestos in the U.S. is unfortunately nowhere near resolved. Until asbestos is completely banned, more drastic regulations are required to prevent exposure and discourage businesses from further using these hazardous minerals in their operations.
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