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Living with Asbestos, As Best We Can.

by Rakesh Dara on April 13, 2014

Exposure to asbestos kills approximately 30 Americans a year.  The possible effect of this mixture of silicate minerals has not even reached its peak, even though production of the material has decreased.  Disturbance of asbestos containing materials releases superbly dangerous fibers and inhalation of these fibers is the most common form of entry into the body, however exposure to the dangerous mineral may not be traceable until 20-50 years after exposure.  A slew of public health issues are connected with asbestos exposure and it specifically victimizes working class men and people of low SES.  Asbestos exposure commonly occurs in public buildings.  So far different projects have been implemented in extracting asbestos, such as the EWG Action Fund, but I believe that more can be done considering asbestos levels have not reached their peak.  More money should be spent on refurnishing current industrialized buildings because their degradation is a major reason for the outbreak of asbestos related diseases.

Asbestos-related deaths are more common than skin cancer, viral hepatitis, asthma, drowning, fires, Hodgkins disease, accidental discharge of firearms and tuberculosis.  At first, it seemed that most “asbestos-related health concerns were focused on the millions of workers who had experienced significant levels of occupational exposure to the hazardous fibers” (Nadakavukaren, 168).  However, your house or even your child’s elementary school can contain asbestos.  The most common issues associated with exposure include lung cancer, asbestosis (scarring of lung tissue) and pleural plaques (scarring in the inner surface of the rib cage and area surrounding the lungs causing breathing problems).  The presence of asbestos is prevalent in public buildings, but mostly in industrialized factories.

Industrial factories with products that contain asbestos has technically decreased but the presence is still there.  The workers were “heavily exposed on the job and were bringing home substantial amounts of asbestos dust to their wives and children; and asbestos was commonly used in public buildings and workplaces” (EWG).  Because of its silent presence, unsafe exposures of asbestos persist today.  In fact it has been approximated that in the next decade there will be 100,000 deaths asbestos-related. It is difficult to ban the mineral because it is prevalent in so many consumer products!  Not only is it difficult to ban the dangerous yet useful chemical, detection often occurs when it is to late.

Exposure to asbestos may happen when you are young and the consequences may show up years later.  In fact we still do not know the “degree of asbestos exposure necessary to initiate cancer, [but] evidence suggests that some individuals who were exposed to high levels of asbestos for only one day developed cancer years later as a result” (Nadakavukaren, 168).  In the 1990’s there was approximately an 8.0% average increase in asbestos related diseases.  The increase in mortality that occurred in the 1990s has continued and in this year alone there have been about 6,300 deaths due to asbestos.  Exposure to this chemical occurred around 1980 and the latency period of asbestos is 20-50 years.  “Extrapolating out from this peak exposure period, one would expect asbestos mortality to crest sometime in the next 20 years” (EWG).  Needless to say asbestos needs to be taken care of immediately.

So you may ask, what is being done about the presence of asbestos?  The danger asbestos presents has “prompted over 40 countries and a vigorous ‘Ban Asbestos’ movement…to discontinue all mining and use of the material” (Nadakavukaren, 170).  Unfortunately, the USA is one of the major exporters of asbestos and they have not completely banned the product.  Therefore screening has been required for employees working in areas with a high presence of asbestos.  Also, “employers must install exhaust ventilation, dust-control systems, and air-vacuuming methods to reduce worker exposure to asbestos dust” (Nadakavukaren, 170).  The average every day person should work to remodel their houses because many houses built before 1997 (when use of asbestos containing materials was banned) still contain dangerous amounts of the material.  In order to end on good terms I would like to state one positive fact.  Asbestos levels have taken a drastic decline in the US and have reached 0.7% of its peak use in 1973.  Remember that there is hope and make sure you take the time to get screened today!


Nadakavukaren, Anne. Our Global Environment: A Health Perspective. Prospect Heights, IL: Waveland, 2000. Print.

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