Asbestos Dangers Safety Toolbox Talk

August 19, 2021
By N. Nicholas, ASP

What is Asbestos and Where is it Found?

Asbestos is a naturally occurring mineral that was used extensively in the past for many purposes, such as insulation, fireproofing material, and building materials.

The name asbestos refers to six naturally occurring forms of this mineral: chrysotile (white), crocidolite (blue), amosite (brown) , anthophyllite (green), tremolite (cream-colored, rare), and actinolite/tremolite .

Asbestos is known to cause cancer if inhaled or ingested.

How is Asbestos Bad for Our Health?

Inhaling asbestos fibers can cause 3 types of diseases:

Asbestosis, or scarring and thickening of the lungs. This leads to difficulty breathing and shortness of breath, especially with physical exertion. It is a progressive disease (gets worse over time) that eventually ends in death due to respiratory failure. Lung cancer from inhaled asbestos fibers.

Mesothelioma , which is a rare type of lung cancer that develops in the lining around the chest or abdominal organs (such as the heart). It too is usually fatal. Lung cancer from inhaling asbestos fibers by accident during everyday activities.

Cancer in other parts of the body resulting from inhalation or ingestion of asbestos fibers. This includes the stomach, larynx (voice box), and ovaries in women, as well as the colon, rectum , and prostate gland .

Asbestos is a carcinogen , meaning it can cause cancer. It has been proven that asbestos can also damage your DNA even if you are not currently ill from breathing it in or swallowing it.

Many people who have lived near areas where asbestos was produced have suffered from lung disease and have developed other cancers later on in life even though they were never exposed to asbestos directly.

Since 1973, studies have linked exposure to asbestos with mesothelioma , which is primarily caused by exposure to asbestos.

Best Practices for Working Around Asbestos

Asbestos can be found in cement, fireproofing materials, plaster, and insulation an much more.

When asbestos is found in these materials or other products such as clothing (e.g. wool), it will be clearly labeled by the manufacturer on the item with a pictogram that says ” Asbestos .”

Do not disturb any asbestos unless proper safety precautions are taken and you have specialized training, including wearing an appropriate mask and disposing of debris properly according to federal regulations.

If you live in an area where there has been previous use of asbestos or even if the material your house was built with contained asbestos: keep your windows closed when remodeling.

If possible hire an asbestos abatement contractor because they will know what precautions to take. Keep children and pets from playing with dust from walls, ceilings or pipes where remodeling is taking place; and install a HEPA air filter in your house to prevent asbestos from being released into the air.

Everyone should assume that buildings built before 1980 have had some exposure to asbestos even if it was sealed safely behind walls, ceilings, floors or other barriers.

It is important to wear an appropriate mask when working around asbestos products, as well as for children to avoid playing with them.

If you are concerned about exposure to asbestos: talk with an industrial hygienist who can test your home and workplace for asbestos fibers using a microscope, or detect high levels of airborne particles or dust in the air by conducting tests with specialized equipment (air sampling).

Always remember that asbestos can pose a serious threat to your health no matter how it is used or handled as long as the fibers remain airborne or are breathed in by you or other people.

If you encounter asbestos on the job, make sure to follow all safety precautions so that you do not develop lung disease later in life.

You should also have regular checkups with a medical professional such as an occupational medicine physician every year (or more often depending on risk level) to ensure that you do not develop cancer from asbestos exposure.

If you are remodeling an older home that has asbestos containing material, contact an asbestos abatement contractor so the work can be done safely and the right way.

Most importantly, at all times, try to prevent disturbing asbestos containing materials.

Lastly, get regular medical check ups and chest x-rays performed to monitor your health if you suspect asbestos exposure.

Other people who may be at risk from asbestos contamination include emergency responders, police officers, school teachers and custodians.

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