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21 things you SHOULD know about asbestos
The best thing to do with asbestos in good condition is don’t disturb it. Where it is damaged and needs to be removed, trained professionals must do the job. AlertForce has released this handy 21-point history of asbestos, its use in Australia and why training is essential if you intent to remove it.
- Asbestos belongs to the serpentine and amphibole groups of rock-forming minerals.
- Asbestos use in human culture dates back at least 4,500 years (to Finland, used in earthenware pots).
- The word asbestos comes from the ancient Greek (means “unquenchable” or “inextinguishable“). This refers to its heat-resistant qualities.
- Charlemagne, the first Holy Roman Emperor (800–814), is said to have had a tablecloth made of asbestos.
- Although asbestos causes skin to itch upon contact, ancient literature indicates that it was prescribed for diseases of the skin including, ironically, itching.
- Asbestos use in England dates back to the 1700s, but did not become widespread until the Industrial Revolution during the late 1800s.
- Commercial asbestos mines sprung up in the late 1800s and entrepreneurs recognised that asbestos could perhaps make them rich. The U.S. asbestos industry began in 1858 when fibrous anthophyllite was mined for use.
- By the mid 20th century uses included fire retardant coatings, concrete, bricks, pipes and fireplace cement, heat, fire, and acid resistant gaskets, pipe insulation, ceiling insulation, fireproof drywall, flooring, roofing, lawn furniture, and drywall joint compound.
- In Japan, particularly after World War II, asbestos was used in the manufacture of ammonium sulfate for purposes of rice production, sprayed upon the ceilings, iron skeletons, and walls of railroad cars and buildings (during the 1960s), and used for energy efficiency reasons as well.
- The first documented death related to asbestos was in 1906. The first diagnosis of asbestosis was made in the UK in 1924.
- The term mesothelioma was first used in medical literature in 1931; its association with asbestos was first noted sometime in the 1940s. Mesothelioma rarely occurs in less than 15 years from first exposure, and in most cases occurs more than 30 years after first exposure.
- Approximately 100,000 people in the United States have died, or will die, from asbestos exposure related to ship building.
- In Australia, asbestos was widely used in construction and other industries between 1945 and 1980. From the 1970s there was increasing concern about the dangers of asbestos, and its use was phased out. Mining ceased in 1983. The use of asbestos was phased out in 1989 and banned entirely in December 2003.
- The dangers of asbestos are now well known in Australia and there is help and support for sufferers from asbestosis or mesothelioma.
- Aside from the well-known asbestos related diseases there have been reports of stomach, colo-rectal, larynx, pharynx, kidneys and oesophagus cancers.
- The excellent fire resistance, insulating properties, fibre strength, durability and flexibility of asbestos minerals resulted in the manufacture of over 3000 asbestos-containing products worldwide. These products included household products (such as hair dryers, ovens and toasters), construction materials (such as roofing, siding and pipe lagging), industrial products (like insulating board, gaskets and heat resistant gloves) and thousands more.
- Asbestos-containing materials were used extensively in Australian buildings and structures, plant and equipment and in ships, trains and motor vehicles during the 1950s, 1960s and 1970s. Some uses included some friction materials and gaskets, which were only discontinued on 31 December 2003. In Australia, the asbestos cement manufacturing industry was responsible for over 60% of all production and 90% of all consumption of asbestos fibre.
- The well-known adverse health consequences of exposure to airborne asbestos fibres can be prevented if precautions are taken and appropriate procedures are followed. Strong management and control of all asbestos-containing materials in the workplace is essential.
- Between 1945 and 1954, 70,000 asbestos cement houses were built in New South Wales alone (52% of all the houses built in that state). In Australia as a whole, until the 1960s, 25% of all new housing was clad in asbestos cement. By 1954, Australia was number four in the western world in gross consumption of asbestos cement products, after the USA, the UK and France, and clearly first on a per capita basis.
- The vast majority of asbestos products were used in construction applications and this is why asbestos assessment work typically focuses on buildings and structures.
- From a practical standpoint, asbestos will be encountered in two forms including friable and non-friable (or bonded). Examples of non-friable asbestos include most flooring products, cement products like roof tiles and siding, hard gaskets, bricks, adhesives and other obviously bonded products. Examples of friable asbestos include most textiles, papers, sprayed-on fire proofing, and insulating products.
- Asbestos becomes a health hazard when fibres become airborne and are inhaled or swallowed. When asbestos fibres become airborne, they can penetrate your body through the nose or mouth and embed themselves in the deepest part of the lungs causing lung cancer, mesothelioma and asbestosis.
|Pursuing a career in asbestos management and removal. Go to www.alertforce.com.au/ohs-training-courses/asbestos-awareness/ for latest training courses.|
- Reference source for this article: AlertForce’s ‘Supervise asbestos removal’ course (CPCCBC4051A).
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