The scary truth about asbestos exposure has been in the news recently, and researchers at the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention are struggling to understand why younger populations are continuing to suffer asbestos-related medical issues.
Although the need to use asbestos has declined significantly, the annual number of malignant mesothelioma deaths (caused from asbestos) remains substantial.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, during 1999-2015, a total of 45,221 malignant mesothelioma deaths were reported, increasing from 2,479 (1999) to 2,597 (2015). Asbestos-related deaths increased for people 85 years and older, but people younger than 35 years continue to be affected.
Dr. Hedy Kindler, professor at the University of Chicago and director of its mesothelioma program, said that exposure can occur in many places - with occupational exposure being one of the most common.
Asbestos is a naturally occurring fibrous mineral that is microscopic in nature (roughly .02 the diameter of a human hair and can’t be seen with the naked eye). Asbestos is extremely durable, with heat and fire-resistance features, and was used in a large number of different commercial and industrial capacities in the 20th century.
Asbestos has been used in products - such as roofs, pipes, floor titles, building materials, and in vehicle brakes and clutches. Workers are also likely to be exposed during the manufacture of asbestos products, such as - textiles, friction products, insulation, and other building materials.
In July of 1989, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) issued a final rule banning most products containing asbestos. In 1991, this regulation was overturned by the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals in New Orleans, allowing uses established prior to 1989. The regulation continues to ban the use of asbestos in products that have not historically contained asbestos, otherwise referred to as “new uses” of asbestos.
To see a list of banned and unbanned products that contain asbestos, visit:
Asbestos must be inhaled to represent a health risk and exposure to friable asbestos fibers was a regular occurrence when grinding, chipping, demolishing, or retrofitting asbestos products. It was common for asbestos to release into the air supply where it would be inhaled.
When asbestos is released into the air during activities that disturb the material, the tiny fibers can be inhaled without knowledge and trapped in the lungs. Since the asbestos fibers are typically rigid, they become lodged in the soft internal tissue of the respiratory system and are not easily expelled or broken down by the body.
Asbestos had been directly and scientifically linked to lung cancer, mesothelioma, and asbestosis. Because of the harmful nature of asbestos, it is now strictly regulated and is classified as a human carcinogen (causing cancer in living tissues).
Asbestos is well recognized as a health hazard and its use is now highly regulated by both OSHA and the EPA.
For workers subjected to asbestos, OSHA has three standards in place to protect them from the hazards specific to their workplace environment. For complete information on all the requirements, see OSHA Asbestos. Below are specifications for three specific workplaces:
To continually protect workers, the employer is required to ensure exposure is reduced by using administrative controls and provide for the wearing of personal protective equipment. Medical monitoring of workers is also required when legal limits and exposure times are exceeded.
Keep workers informed about required personal protective equipment by showing them what they need to wear on personalized PPE Boards.
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