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Asbestos has affected many people negatively. Diseases caused by asbestos have causes thousands of workers to succumb to imminent deaths. Some lobby groups have defended the negative effects of asbestos, claiming that the findings from research are over-exaggerated. Various over-seer bodies have been created and mandated with the task of controlling the use of asbestos. In some countries, asbestos and its by-products have been banned. This paper will indulge into the effects of asbestos and how it can be controlled.
Keywords: Asbestos, asbestosis, fibrosis, Lung cancer
Since World War I, people have continued to use asbestos as a cheap raw material. It is found in abundance and it is multipurpose. Asbestos is fire and acid resistant. In addition to that, it is fibrous in nature, meaning that it can be incorporated into almost anything. From clothing to manufacturing of machinery and building materials, its application knows no bounds. Asbestos was referred as the wonder fiber in the twentieth century due to its flexibility and ability to blend into anything. However, according to various researches conducted, its glitter and glamor are overrun by a dark cloud. The asbestos’ fiber has been found to cause serious health complications to people who come in direct contact with it. The most affected being the workers in the mining of asbestos and in the manufacturing plants that rely on the use of asbestos. Before making unjustifiable and perturbing allegations, it is fair to indulge the reader in depth about the asbestos and how it affects the human health.
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Literature Review for Asbestos
Asbestos had initially proven to be very important to humans. Despite its fibrous nature, it is resistant to any form of destruction like heat, making it feasible for it to be integrated into the manufacture of other materials like clothes and construction materials (Sen, p.1). The article continues to state that, initially upon being discovered, it was considered safe and therefore, widely used. Industries used the asbestos in large scale as it proved to be very marketable and cheap to acquire as it was found in abundance (AAA, p.1). In continuity, the article stipulates that there were over 3,500 products that entailed asbestos when the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) banned asbestos in the United States in 1989. Insurance companies as early as 1918 refused to offer cover for asbestos-related complication stating that the matter had already come to light (Roselli, p.5). The reason it took that long according to Roselli (p.6) is that the asbestos lobby shunned and condemned these reports as a mere fuss. The harmful effects of asbestos were discovered gradually and necessary measures are taken accordingly. Industrial workers, in the mid-1970s, had started to be experimented upon by various scientific researchers in a bid to confirm whether it was indeed true that asbestos was detrimental to the health of its users in that era (Sen, p.2). The number of workers in industries that were synonymous with the use of asbestos had the highest number of ill workers. Affirmatively, Roselli (p.5) stipulates that the wonder fiber became the killer fiber. The number of workers who developed asbestos-related illness were in their hundreds of thousands. In fact, a lobby group known as The Asbestos Liability Risk Assessment Group (ALRA Group) was formed to help the workers sue their respective companies for immediate compensation and also assist where possible in whole litigation process (ALRA, p.1). The ALRA Group offers its services actually to all the involved parties ranging from the defenders to the financial institutions and all the relevant stakeholders involved in the asbestos sector. Asbestos, according to Sen (p.12) causes asbestosis, mesothelioma, and other complicated lung diseases. A prudent move involves keeping away from asbestos-related materials and if it is necessary to interact with them, precautionary measures must be taken especially amongst mechanics (EPA, no pagination). Affirmatively, HSWA (p.36) outlines the need to have set procedures and guidelines for the use of asbestos and safeguard the interests of workers actively involved with the asbestos related material in their workstations.
History of Asbestos
Asbestos occurs naturally. It gained massive popularity due to its numerous but favorable characteristics. During the height of the World War I, the major powers during that era used asbestos in large quantities. It gained favor due to its heat resistance (with a boiling point of over 1500 C) and resistance to corrosion from acid. In the mid-19160s and 1970, the asbestos was used in the manufacture of the most basic commodities like cement. Many people were thus in constant contact with it during various stages of both production and its application. Another common use of asbestos was embedded in the manufacture of ships and machinery for industrial use. Asbestos was found in more than six varieties. The most common types being:
- Chrysotile (white Asbestos)
- Crocidolite (Blue Asbestos)
- Amosite (Brown Asbestos)
Harmful effects of asbestos were discovered in 1899, but was constantly masked as cases of tuberculosis (Sen, p.7). In the United Kingdom, the textile industry workers and their counterparts from the shipping sector, by epidemiological evidence, were found to have the highest cases of lung cancer. A survey and expansive research had to be conducted to have a crystal image of what asbestos entailed. In 1971, the long-term effect of being exposed to asbestos especially on the workers was put under surveillance. From 1971 to 2005, 15496 deaths were confirmed on a report published in 2009 on the same. Exposure to asbestos was held responsible for various lung complications like asbestosis and mesothelioma. At the height of these revelations, various organizations were formed either as pro or anti-asbestos. For instance, the Asbestos Liability Risk Assessment Group (ALRA) was formed to offer legal advice to the victims exposed to asbestos and those sued by their employees (ALRA, p.1). Another example is the Industrial Injuries Disablement Benefit (IIDB) that seeks to compensate the victims of unfair exposure to harmful substances and pathogens, in the course of executing their mandates. It is estimated that most people in the United Kingdom suffering from occupational cancer is from exposure in the past or recently. Asbestos is blamed for all of these deaths.
The Health Complications Arising from Exposure to Asbestos
Asbestos has proven to be detrimental to health (AAA, p.1). Various countries like Sweden and New Zealand have banned the use of asbestos. Serious health complications have been linked to being exposed to asbestos during daily occupations. As mentioned earlier, asbestos has a wide variety of uses. This means that an individual is most likely to come across asbestos in the course of their lifetime. Asbestos-containing materials are as dangerous as being exposed to raw asbestos. Asbestos is comprised of airborne fibers that are invisible to the naked eye. It is also odorless. This makes it a lethal and killer. When inhaled, these fibers move to the lungs and cover the small perforations on the surface of the lungs.
Their indestructible nature enables them to survive on the lung surface. In the end, fibrosis is created. Fibrosis is dangerous as it causes the airways in the lungs to become narrower than normal. In the end, the victim develops asbestosis. It will be sagacious to note that, severe and damaging symptoms occur when the victim is exposed to asbestos over a long duration of time. This does not mean that the average or low symptoms exist.
Benign pleural disease emanates from asbestos. The pleural diseases are because of thickening of the pleural. Thickening of the lung surface means that the patient tends to experience a reduced supply of air supply. Its existence indicates the patient might have been exposed to asbestos. Diffuse pleural disease is a more severe case than the former. It is often characterized with chest pains and severe dyspnea. It prevents the lung from performing its functions to the maximum. For this reason, medical experts have prescribed this disease as a medical condition unlike the initial pleural disease. Patients who have been exposed to the harmful effects of asbestos for more than twenty years tend to develop the benign pleural effusion but unlike the former case, it is not prescribed as a medical condition.
Malignant ailments emanate from asbestos exposure. When the levels of exposure are minimal, the probability of contracting malignant ailments are minimized. An example of a malignant ailment is the malignant mesothelioma. Exposure to asbestos is the only known cause of these ailments. It, therefore, means that asbestos is responsible for more than 98% of all ailments associated with the malignant mesothelioma. Affirmatively, Sen (p.10) states that the amphibole crocidolite asbestos is the single major cause of the mesothelioma as suggested by a variety of epidemiological data. Most of the patients suffering from mesothelioma have been exposed to asbestos before reaching the age of thirty years. With the onset of old age, the symptoms become more evident and more severe. However, most patients tend to succumb to this disease on the first year of their diagnosis. It affects both physically and psychologically. A patient’s psychosocial life is affected a great deal.
Interstitial lung disease is another harmful effect of asbestos. When interstitial fibrosis and chronic pulmonary combine, they lead to asbestosis. Heavy exposure to asbestos to an individual for more than two decades usually result in asbestosis. Smoking tends to increase the rate of health deterioration. Chances of contracting lung cancer are also increased exponentially.
Retroperitoneal fibrosis emanates from asbestos inhalation. The retroperitoneal tissues meets the fibrosis and chronic inflammation, it leads to the retroperitoneal fibrosis. Nonetheless, this disease can be induced by other processes and procedures like radiation therapy and using some drugs such as methysergide. The abdominal organs are mostly affected like the abdominal aorta or the ureter.
Lung cancer more often than not is associated with smoking. Smoking has been openly linked with asbestos as they share a synergy. However, it will be prudent to note that there is no recognizable way of distinguishing what lung cancer is caused by asbestos, cigarette smoking or inhaling of other harmful substances. It is for this reason that employees are constantly warned of smoking. In case, unfortunately, of course, one ails of lung cancer, the cause can be traced down. Smoking on top of inhaling asbestos increases the chances of lung cancer and reduces significantly the patient’s life span.
When inhaling the asbestos, some of the fibers might fail to make it to the lungs. They in turn end being swallowed by the victim. They cause complications in the gastrointestinal tract. In some cases, asbestos swallowed has been associated widely with the laryngeal carcinoma. In a review analysis by the IARC in 1987, asbestos increased the infection of the stomach, colon and esophagus cancer, which subsequently led to the death of the patients.
Evaluation of the Available Research
The literature that has been used in this paper has provided detailed information and research done on asbestos by various scholars. Data from the twentieth century, when the use of asbestos was at its peak up to the twenty first century has been compiled and provided for the reader to study. The literature provides the impact asbestos has had on various countries around the globe ranging from New Zealand, Sweden United States and the United Kingdom and the devastating effects it has had on its citizens. Measures taken have been articulated in length and recommendations on the same offered. The literature used is up to date and has been regularly updated. However, despite various scholarly articles banning the use of asbestos, an alternative solution has not been provided. Seldom does various articles recommend an alternative for the user to adopt. It would be pivotal if the reader knew what other substance of the same characteristics as asbestos to use but with minimal or no harmful effects. Researchers would have come up with measures to reduce the harmful effects of asbestos without having to ban it in totality. It also leaves the user hanging in the wind not knowing what to substitute asbestos with. The only alternative left is the reader to look for alternative measures in other literature works. In addition, the literature does not provide a comprehensive analysis on whether the victims exposed to asbestos involuntarily have been able to be compensated accordingly by their employers.
Tolerability Standards for Asbestos
Asbestos had been integrated into to almost everything. From the clothes, machinery, ship manufacture and cement. The cement, in turn, has been used in constructing buildings. Therefore, activities that can disturb the asbestos’ fibers have to be minimized to avert them floating in the air and affecting the people in those buildings (HSWA, pp42-49) It would be impractical to totally avoid any material that lacks asbestos. Standards that are not harmful to human beings have been deployed to deal with this issue. In this section of the paper, standards that are tolerable to humans in terms of safety measures will be highlighted.
Safety bodies have been created to deal with the use and implementation of the asbestos (EPA, no pagination). In the United States, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) was established. This body deals with allowing the permissible amount of asbestos to be used or allowed in the environment. Another body is the United States Environmental Agency (EPA) that regulates the amount of asbestos found in drinking water. When such bodies are created, they have to establish the following based on asbestos:
- The amount that is released into the environment. The amount has to be in levels that can cause no harm to human harm or any living organisms in the environment.
- Type of asbestos that is used. Asbestos has six varieties. Some varieties like the blue and brown asbestos have been known to be lethal and extremely dangerous. The mandated bodies have to ensure that the safer varieties are used in the right quantities.
- How frequent is the asbestos used and how long is it exposed to the users.
- The durability of the fibers. The durability of asbestos fibers has proven in more times than not, to be harmful and detrimental to human health. As such, the duration period of the asbestos must be investigated. It means that even when absorbed into the human body, the fiber might not be injurious to health as long as other durable fibers.
OSHA has set up mechanisms for training people on the right way to handle asbestos. For instance, engineers have been trained to handle and detect asbestos in the right manner and prevent them from causing harmful effects to people and the environment. Workers have also been trained on the right measures of handling either asbestos or materials that have traces of asbestos in them to avert any health crisis. Ignorance at times is responsible for the predicaments that befall workers. Therefore, workers should be cautioned on the impact of combining smoking and the exposure to asbestos.
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Prevention and Control Strategies
People who have wrongfully contracted asbestos related ailments cannot access necessary treatments. It means that the affected individuals who contact asbestos related ailments more often than not succumb to these ailments. Therefore, the best way to deal with these ailments is to avert and shut down any avenues that may lead to these complications. Prevention is much easier than the curing process. Therefore, necessary measures have to be put in place to prevent the asbestos from affecting the people meeting them.
One of the measures deployed is the total ban of asbestos. HSWA (p.38) states that the most effective way to deal with asbestos is banning its use in totality. For instance, New Zealand has done away with asbestos either as a raw material or as a final product. Banning asbestos eliminates any possibilities of having complications arising from their use. New Zealand is one of the countries that have banned the use of asbestos, has saved a lot of time, resources, and effort that would have been used to control and research on asbestos.
Experts recommend workers to deploy the use of Personal Protection Equipment (PPE). This equipment protect the worker from coming directly in contact with asbestos. Apart from the usual protection offered from the provision of gloves, boots, and aprons, it is important to remember that asbestos fiber is airborne. Therefore, the protection gear should incorporate Respiratory Protective Equipment (RPE) that prevent the worker from inhaling the fibers. On top of that, overall coats should be worn to cover the clothes to prevent the worker from carrying the fibers back home or spreading them around.
Workers should monitor their health closely. Detection of slight abnormalities should not be ignored. If detected early, some infections can be controlled and further explosion averted. Workers should keep a health record to know their health condition. Companies should put mechanisms in place that ensure employees’ health tract is regularly updated.
Decontamination should be used on asbestos sites and tools. Fibers are eliminated in totality and the possibility of them spreading reduced significantly. In addition, proper disposal mechanisms should be implemented. When asbestos is not disposed of well, the environment and all living things become vulnerable.
Asbestos has proven to have a very significant impact on workers. Based on a number of facts derived from the literature used, a number of recommendations have been derived. To start with, all companies must ensure that the employees are well protected at their workplace. This will be achieved by ensuring that they acquire the Personal Protection Equipment (PPE) for their employees. This will prevent the workers from coming in direct contact with the asbestos.
Banning the use of asbestos. A number of countries have banned the use of asbestos and its by-products. Engaging the use of asbestos in manufacturing commodities limits the market margin offered by these countries. The banning of asbestos should also be made on the basis that asbestos is harmful and injurious to human health.
Various bodies have been set up to check on the use of asbestos. It is of importance if every company adheres to the stipulated guidelines to avert putting the lives of their employees in danger. Most health complications arising from asbestos leads to the imminent death of the victims. The working environment should be safe for all workers. Any company or business found not to adhere to the laid guidelines should be fined heavily and blacklisted. This will ensure that every employer takes the task of ensuring that the safety of the employees is enhanced at their respective areas of jurisdiction.
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Many people have been torn apart due to the asbestos related diseases. It has been proven that curing these diseases is impossible. For this reason, the health of the workers should be prioritized. Most businesses want to benefit from the use of incorporating asbestos in their manufacturing. Safety standards have to be deployed first and ensured that the lives of the workers are considered. Unfortunately, most workers never realize the effect asbestos has on their lives until it is too late. Proper measures should be put in place and enforced to ensure the lives and health conditions of workers are protected.
- American Academy of Actuaries. Overview of Asbestos Issues and Trends. Public Policy Monograph.
- ALRA. Asbestos Claims and Litigation.
- Sen, D. Working with asbestos and the Possible Health Risk. Occupational Medicine.
- Environmental Protection Agency. Preventing Asbestos Exposure among Brake and Clutch Workers. United States Environmental Protection Agency.
- Health and Safety at Work Act. Management and Removal of Asbestos. Approved Code of Practice.
- Roselli, M. The Asbestos Lie. The past and Present of an Industrial Catastrophe.4 (2). 2014, pp 2-15.