Asbestos is one of the world’s most famous industrial materials. While many people associate asbestos with synthetic properties, it’s a naturally occurring silicate mineral – six similar minerals fall under the name ‘asbestos’. When the mineral is put into commercial use, it displays a ‘fibre-like’ appearance which is easily broken apart.
Human asbestos use first appeared over 4,000 years ago, but it wasn’t until the industrial revolution that wide-scale asbestos use became prominent. As countries began to industrialise, asbestos helped in the manufacturing of various goods and materials. Bricks, concrete, flooring, yarn, and even paper were commonly associated with asbestos. Extensive efforts to mine asbestos began in many countries around the world.
While asbestos use continued to rise for decades, it became clear to some scientists that there were very negative consequences of using the material. Over time, as the problem became more apparent, countries began to ban the use of asbestos. While the material remained prevalent in already constructed buildings, most Western nations managed to phase out asbestos in the 1980s. Most of western Europe now has a complete ban on asbestos, but there are a few major countries that still allow regulated use of the mineral.
Unfortunately, it appears that asbestos may be making a comeback. In this article, we will discuss the worrying idea that President Trump may be helping asbestos find its way back into the US market.
What is Trump Doing with Asbestos?
While most countries don’t allow any use of asbestos, the United States is yet to provide a complete ban on the material. This isn’t Trump’s fault – there have been plenty of opportunities to ban asbestos in the past. While asbestos is highly regulated in the USA, there are plenty of consumer products that are allowed to use less than one per cent of asbestos in their manufacturing process. While over 50 other major nations around the world no longer allow asbestos at all, the United States is one of a handful of large nations that continues to use the harmful material.
So, what is Trump doing differently? It appears that the president’s administration is loosening the rules on asbestos use by introducing new Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) guidelines on the building material. While the guidelines seem to be well-intentioned at face-value, it is likely they will be used to allow larger asbestos-related projects to take place. The guidelines state that companies can propose ‘new use rules’ that will be assessed by the EPA. These new uses may receive approval from the EPA and therefore allow for new applications of the material in manufacturing or other sectors.
For example, if the EPA approves asbestos use in a particular project, this may permit the plan to use more asbestos than currently admissible. If asbestos slowly begins to creep back into the American manufacturing industry, it could have severe consequences for American public health. Many of Trump’s critics see this as a first step for allowing more and more asbestos into the country. With so many other countries disallowing the material within their borders, environmental campaigners see this as a significant blow to ridding the world of asbestos.
Isn’t Asbestos Super Dangerous?
Yes. Asbestos is known as one of the most dangerous building materials on the planet. It may be naturally occurring, and it may look harmless, but asbestos is responsible for the deaths of millions of people. The discovery of the potentially harmful effects of asbestos happened over 100 years ago – it still took almost eight decades for most countries to rid themselves of the mineral.
The first considerable research into asbestos danger appeared in England during the early 20th Century. Throughout the principal mining towns and industrial areas, large amounts of people began to die of strange health conditions. As research began to look for a cause, some autopsies indicated death from a pulmonary disease. Many patients appeared to have visible traces of asbestos in their lungs after their deaths. While the full realisation of the damages of asbestos wouldn’t develop for decades, asbestos did appear on lists of dangerous manufacturing materials in the early 1900s.
Over the following decades, many people working in a range of different manufacturing industries died from illnesses related to asbestos. The amount of asbestos in shipyards and other building centres during WW2 also increased many workers’ exposure to the harmful material.
Asbestos is somewhat of a silent killer. The fibres are small and often invisible to the eye, but they can cause severe damage once a human or animal inhales them. Many diseases are linked to asbestos exposure. There is also plenty of evidence that suggests that family members of people who worked close to asbestos also suffered severe health consequences. So, what are the exact health consequences of asbestos? We’re going to explore this question in more detail in below!
How Asbestos Damages Worker Health
Illness resulting from asbestos exposure is usually associated with individuals working in industrial industries. While this is often the case, an asbestos-related disease can impact anyone who comes into contact with the substance. There are a host of different conditions that can result from asbestos exposure, but there are a few severe diseases that appear quite regularly.
Mesothelioma is one of the most severe illnesses that can result from over exposure to asbestos. Mesothelioma is cancer that affects the thin layer of tissue that is present in most human organs – in the case of asbestos; it typically impacts the layer of tissue in the lungs. Around 80 per cent of mesothelioma cases are the result of asbestos – it is by far the leading cause of the disease.
Mesothelioma is a very deadly form of cancer, under 8 per cent of patients live five years or more with the disease. Around 3,000 people a year are diagnosed with the disease in the United States. Around the world, about 30,000 people die from mesothelioma every year. One of the scary parts about this disease is how long it takes to form. Most mesothelioma patients develop the disease around 40 years after their initial exposure to asbestos.
Asbestosis is another disease that is directly linked to exposure to asbestos. The condition causes swollen and painful lung tissue that can result in further complications. In most cases of asbestosis, there is also considerable scarring of the lung tissue, which results from exposure to asbestosis fibres. There are over 150,000 people around the world with asbestosis. In some cases, people survive the condition without developing further complications. In other instances, asbestosis can cause mesothelioma, other lung cancers, and even heart disease.
While small amounts of exposure to asbestos can cause considerable damage, there is evidence that suggests the more you’re exposed, the higher your chances of developing an asbestos-related disease are. For this reason, asbestos-related diseases are very prevalent in manufacturing workers and those who worked on asbestos mines.
Disease related to asbestos causes considerable damage to working-class communities. In Australia, massive lawsuits and claims are often brought against companies that knowingly exposed their workers to asbestos. There are considerable resources in place to help former workers seek compensation for asbestos-related disease, and law-firms reach out to prospective clients on a regular basis.
Will More Asbestos Hurt the Environment?
While much of the discussion on asbestos focuses on human health and related diseases, asbestos can also pose problems for the environment as a whole. Asbestos often travels quickly through the air and can settle in soil or water – this can then lead to exposure to animals or other humans. Evidence suggests that countries with high levels of asbestos use often have high levels of asbestos present in the environment. This could indicate that asbestos use results in asbestos contamination, regardless of whether proper measurements are in place to reduce potential harm.
The best way to reduce the amount of asbestos in the environment is to ban all use of asbestos. America’s unwillingness to do so puts them in the same boat as Russia and China.
Long Lasting Damage from Asbestos
Another major long-term problem associated with asbestos is the complications involved in removing the material from a site. In most countries, asbestos removal needs to be conducted by a certified removal specialist that is individually trained to handle asbestos removal. If you do conduct removal without proper training or protection, you could be putting yourself at risk for developing life-changing diseases.
The cost of asbestos removal and the dangers it poses are often not considered by those installing the material. If the company responsible for the asbestos-related item goes bust, it is likely that the material will need to be removed by another company or the government. This poses a long-lasting economic impact – we still see high costs related to the removal of asbestos installed decades ago.
As mentioned previously, many diseases related to asbestos do not appear until years after initial exposure. This means the long-lasting damage of a change in asbestos policy may not be fully understood until decades into the future. Trump’s asbestos policy may prove extremely dangerous for Americans. It’s essential to ensure this new wave of asbestos acceptance doesn’t spread to other countries around the world!