Asbestos, Definitely not the Bestest…

by Ella Pestine on February 20, 2014

It’s in our walls, our pipes, and even our cars. It keeps our homes warm, reduces the chance of fires in the house, and helps our cars break at red lights. So what is this multi-faceted enigma? I bet you didn’t guess that I’m talking about asbestos, one of the most destructive chemicals to the human body. Too much exposure to asbestos can lead to horrible diseases and health outcomes, which begs the question, how can something so useful to us humans be so detrimental to our health?

Asbestos, according to MedlinePlus, is a naturally occurring group of minerals with fibers so small that they are invisible

asbestos picwhen in their natural environment. Asbestos is only dangerous when disrupted from its natural state, causing the fibers to float freely in the air. When inhaled continuously over a long period of time, asbestos can cause lung cancer, mesothelioma, and asbestosis which can lead to death.

While asbestos is clearly dangerous when not in a controlled environment, it is necessary to remember that many other chemicals act the same way when not controlled. Bleach, a common household cleaner and detergent can cause headaches, neurological disorders, and even death when mixed with other cleaning agents. Bleach, like asbestos is very harmful when not controlled. Recently, a day care center in North Carolina accidentally poisoned many of its children by mistakenly distributing water from a pitcher that had bleach residue in it. While this was obviously a grave mistake, the uncontrolled use of such a harmful chemical should have been monitored as closely as we not monitor asbestos use and removal. Yet we still use it every day, usually without proper gloves and eye protection and in settings where it could cause great risk.

That cigarette butt you just kicked on your way to class? That causes cancer just as easily as asbestos can. The difference between tobacco and asbestos is that asbestos use can help humankind, whereas tobacco is simply an addictive carcinogen. While tobacco sales may help boost our economy, the health risks associated with tobacco are high not only to the smoker, but also to the people around the smoker who experience second-hand exposure.

One of the issues with asbestos is that it when it is controlled in a suitable environment it is very useful, yet as a harsh chemical it is often difficult to control, therefore leading to bad outcomes. Additionally, in the 1940s when asbestos was being used regularly in construction, the harmful effects were unknown. Because of the currently known harmful effects of asbestos, there are great efforts being made to remove asbestos from buildings which poses many problems. First, removing the chemical can cause potential unnecessary exposure. Since it is highly prevalent in schools and other highly occupied buildings, this poses a threat to many people. Second, there are no other chemicals like asbestos that can do the same job as it. It is not only durable, but it is also a flame retardant and an excellent insulator.

Since asbestos was so widely used in construction decades ago, there are now strict regulations concerning inspection and removal of asbestos. Many of the regulations are focused on schools because that is where asbestos is most prevalent. While there is a vast list of regulations, the most basic ones are that schools with asbestos must be checked every three years to determine if it would be harmful, and they must submit yearly reports to faculty and parents describing the plan to manage the asbestos. These regulations suggest that as long as the asbestos is controlled and consistently reevaluated, it will not harm people. Yet careful observation is necessary to ensure the asbestos stays under control.

Asbestos is obviously harmful chemical that can cause much harm when uncontrolled, but it is also important to remember the everyday materials that we use which can be detrimental to our health as well. There are so many simple ways we can reduce our risk to harmful exposures by slightly changing our habits. Using a reusable water bottle, deciding not to smoke, and choosing environmentally-friendly cleaning products are a few simple ways to improve our health and reduce our exposure to damaging chemicals.




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