Most people who hear the word asbestos know that it is a dangerous substance, but they probably can’t tell you more than that. Dangerous, but somehow also not. It is something that is used in roof tiles and on building sites and in heaters. But what exactly is it? Where does it come from? And why does it have the reputation for being dangerous? Here are a few things that you might not know about that useful, yet mysterious substance, asbestos.
Yes, it is dangerous
Asbestos can cause all sorts of harm to humans if it is inhaled. Asbestos fibres, which are common place in asbestos mines or on old building sites get into the lungs and cause. Exposure to asbestos results in mesothelioma which is painful and fatal. Because most people who are exposed to asbestos are exposed indirectly, through inhaling its fibres, asbestos air monitoring has become a service that is used on many construction and industrial sites.
Where is it worst
The two nations with the highest fatality rates from mesothelioma are the United Kingdom and Australia. A British Lung Foundation study suggests that four people die each die in the UK from mesothelioma while another study suggests that as many as 25,000 Australians will die from asbestos exposure between now and 2060. For a substance that is no longer freely available or used in construction, this remains an astoundingly high number.
It was once very common
Because of its durability and versatility, asbestos was once used in all sorts of products. In the 1950s some toothpaste included asbestos because its abrasive properties were thought to help the cleaning process. Egyptians used to wrap their dead in cloth that had been woven with asbestos in it while fake snow was made with asbestos as well – in fact legend has it that in old movies like the Wizard of Oz and Holiday Inn, where there were snow scenes, that the casts were exposed to extremely dangerous raw Chrysotile asbestos.
Not a new thing
Despite the fact that asbestos was exteriorly used widely in the mid parts of the previous century, the side effects that it caused were noted as long ago as the Roman Empire. More than one ancient Roman text made note of the fact that the slaves who were put to work in the asbestos mines developed lung issues and died young.
What is it actually?
Asbestos is not an element and you won’t find it on the periodic table. It was first discovered as long ago as 2500BC where archaeologists found pots and utensils in Greece and Scandinavia that contained mixtures of clay and asbestos. What it is, is a set of six naturally occurring minerals of the silicon family. It also contains magnesium. In its natural form it consists of long strands of tightly connected crystals that are held together by millions and millions of microscopic fibrils. It is these miniscule fibres that wreak havoc when they get into the lungs, causing them to harden and to stop working.