(by guest blogger: Michelle Whitmer) Asbestos is a naturally occurring mineral that’s been used to fireproof and strengthen commercial and industrial products since the 1800s. It prevents fire and makes products safer to use around heat. Controversy around the use of asbestos arose from the discovery that it is a carcinogen-it has been linked to cancer and other diseases. Mesothelioma
Asbestos exposure has no immediate effect. Asbestos-related diseases develop many years after exposure. For example, it takes at least 10 years for asbestosis to develop and several decades for cancer to develop. As a result of the toxic effects of asbestos, strict regulatory controls have been implemented to protect the public from it’s harmful effects.
The following facts explain more about the risks of exposure, how to avoid asbestos products and what can be done for people who get sick.
Asbestos Not Banned in the US
The U.S. government passed regulations targeted at asbestos in the 1970s and 1980s. The Clean Air Act of 1970 gave the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) power to regulate asbestos. It also effectively banned one of the most dangerous products: Spray-applied asbestos. The Toxic Substances Control Act of 1976 allowed the EPA to further regulate asbestos. In 1986, the Asbestos Hazard Emergency Response Act forced the EPA to design protocols to manage asbestos in schools.
More than 50 countries have banned asbestos but the U.S. is not one of them. The EPA attempted to enact a ban in 1989, but the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals overturned it in 1991. Asbestos remains in products, including auto brake pads and clutches, gaskets, roofing materials and other construction products, fireproof clothing and friction materials.
Asbestos is Primarily Used as Insulation
Asbestos was most commonly used as an insulating material to protect products from heat damage and prevent fire. Different types of asbestos insulation include:
• Loose-fill or attic
• Valve jackets
• Paper products
It is impossible to identify whether a product contains asbestos through visual inspection alone. Laboratory testing is required to confirm presence of asbestos, which takes days to process. For safety, it is highly recommended to treat these insulation products as if they contain asbestos until testing demonstrates that it does not.
If you encounter insulating materials at home or on the job, make sure they’re in good condition and don’t do anything to damage or disturb them. If the insulation looks damaged or is deteriorating, call a licensed asbestos abatement company or a certified building inspector to assess the situation.
Asbestos Was Widely Used by US Military
Every branch of the U.S. military, including the Air Force, Army, Coast Guard, Marine Corps and Navy, used asbestos-containing materials (ACM). The Air Force used asbestos insulation on planes. The Army used asbestos parts in armored vehicles. The Navy, Coast Guard and Marine Corps used asbestos to make ships and shipyards fireproof. All branches used asbestos insulation throughout their buildings, barracks and housing communities.
Because asbestos exposure was so prevalent in the military, around 30 percent of mesothelioma lawsuits are filed by veterans.
Occupational Exposure Posed Greatest Health Risk
People who work with asbestos regularly on the job are the ones who face the greatest health risk. It generally takes years of repeated exposure to become at risk for developing an asbestos-related disease. However, minimal exposure, such as a heavy one-time exposure or just a few months of exposure, has caused disease in some people.
About 20% of people who work with asbestos develop a related disease. The vast majority do not experience negative effects from exposure and it is speculated that those who do may have genetic predisposition.
There is Currently No Cure for Asbestos-Related Diseases
Unfortunately, there are no cures for asbestos-related diseases. Life Expectancy Only early-stage lung cancer and ovarian cancer have a chance of being cured with a combination of surgery, chemotherapy and immunotherapy. Sadly, only a handful of mesothelioma cases have entered long-term remission, but most cases are incurable. If diagnosed early, aggressive treatment helps people outlive the 1-year average life expectancy. Some people are living more than three and five years with combined treatment using surgery, chemotherapy, radiation therapy and immunotherapy.
Asbestosis is a progressive lung disease that is incurable, but treatments are available to ease symptoms. Oxygen therapy alleviates shortness of breath, medication thins lung secretions and reduce pain, and respiratory therapy helps to keep the lungs clear.
Asbestos exposures should be taking seriously. Although most people exposed to asbestos do not get sick, those who do face serious illness. Avoiding asbestos materials throughout a lifetime is essential to reducing your risk of developing a related disease. Take necessary precautions and complete necessary testing if you encounter or suspect materials contain asbestos.
Author bio: Michelle Whitmer has been a medical writer and editor for The Mesothelioma Center since 2008. Focused on the benefits of integrative medicine for cancer patients, Michelle is a certified yoga instructor, member of the Academy of Integrative Health & Medicine and graduated from Rollins College in Florida. Edited by Julie Warren.