Asbestos – The Silent Killer

In honour of the men and women who were exposed to, who became ill from, and who passed away due to asbestos.  The Silent Killer.

I’ve been torn how to write this as its history is so very sad – yet to also be informative.  So I hope I’ve gauged this appropriately, to celebrate the bravery of such men and women above who were exposed to asbestos, with flowers…. I hope that they would approve. Then to give you some details to try and stop history repeating itself.

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Last week I alluded to there being two things that I wouldn’t touch relating to DIY, the first being the electrics.  The second is asbestos – it simply isn’t worth it.

Here’s my asbestos experience…. Underneath I’ve included some background if you’re interested.

I’d heard about asbestos and its fine particles that could be dangerous if inhaled into the lungs.  Though I was clueless what it looked like and where/how it might be present in my flat – and my flat is old and a mis-match of materials in disarray from seemingly cowboy-builders.

Already I have found some treasure trinkets between bricks – more on those later, they deserve a post of their own!

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It is only when showing the nice team at Screwfix some photos of my crumbling plaster that they asked if I’d checked for asbestos.

So I came home, carefully removed my clothing and shoes, shut the door to the room with the crumbling plaster – then rummaged on the internet to find out more about asbestos.  My flat is typical of one with the features but surely I wasn’t one of the statistics who still had asbestos in her flat?

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Where can I find information?

I found these websites helpful, on both you can search for a local, registered consultant:

How much will it cost?

You might think overkill but I think well worth it! I arranged for an asbestos survey.  Not the cheapest £175 + VAT but it included a laboratory sample.

A very nice man rocked up with a huge bag – I wondered if he was staying not just a fortnight but a month!  Fortunately he wasn’t in for the long-haul but had brought his protective gear…. Just in case….

He was Thorough – with a capital T.

With an incredible wealth of knowledge and seemingly experience, he inspected all rooms and checked plaster, bricks, walls, ceilings, materials, boarding, under the stairs.  No stone left unturned it felt like.  With my prior consent he kept stabbing walls with a little hammer-like tool that extracted a small amount of material to check its consistency.   Apparently under the stairs is renowned historically for asbestos… so he checked that too.

He didn’t need to put on his gear.  He was very confident that I had no asbestos though took a small sample to test in the laboratory.

Phew!  A few days later the lab results showed negative, I had the all clear. 

So yep, my flat is asbestos-free…  even if it is now still a bit spotty from all of his stabbings for samples. Yet slowly I’ve removing each one anyway as I peel back the layers to the brick shell.

Your choice – and yes one of those dodgy tradesmen laughed at me when I mentioned I’d had an asbestos inspection – but if your house is old then I strongly recommend that you have one.

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Credit for the below to Asbestoswise, an incredible website that I found:

What is asbestos?

  • Asbestos is a generic name that is given to a group of fibrous silicate materials that occur naturally in the environment.
  • Due to its unique combination of flexibility, tensile strength, insulation and chemical inertness it became widely used by industry from the 1800s.
  • It is the only naturally occurring mineral that can be spun and woven like cotton or wool into useful fibres and fabrics.
  • Asbestos fibres are 50 to 200 times thinner than a human hair, can float in the air for a long time, can be invisible to the naked eye and can be breathed into the lungs.

In the past, especially 1940s to 1980s when their production stopped, asbestos was mined and manufactured into many different materials including those for house building.

The three most common types of asbestos that were mainly used in a wide range of products are:

  • Chrysotile (white asbestos)
  • Crocidolite (blue asbestos)
  • Amosite (brown or grey asbestos)

Blue asbestos is known to cause the most harm as the fibres are relatively long and thin, therefore they are more likely to reach the lungs rather than the curlier fibres of white asbestos.

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Why is asbestos dangerous?

In the early 1900s medical practitioners began to raise concerns that exposure to asbestos was causing deaths of asbestos workers through respiratory diseases and by the 1930s there was a substantial accumulation of scientific knowledge concerning asbestos related diseases.

  • Almost everyone in society has been exposed to some asbestos fibres, but for most people the exposure and the risk is very small.
  • When asbestos is disturbed it forms a dust of tiny fibres and this dust can easily be breathed in.
  • Asbestos fibres can split down, reducing in size until they are small enough to travel deep into the body where they pierce the lining of the lungs.
  • The body does not have a mechanism for removing materials from this deep within the lungs and as the asbestos fibres are embedded in the lining, they will remain in the body for the rest of a person’s life.
  • Asbestos related diseases are caused by the inhalation or ingestion of these particles of asbestos. The diseases caused by exposure include asbestosis, pleural plaques, lung cancer, mesothelioma and cancer of the intestinal tract.

Asbestos related diseases are generally associated with inhaling asbestos over a long period of time. However, a small number of people may develop mesothelioma even after brief exposure. The reason why this occurs is not known so it is always important to keep exposure to asbestos fibres as low as possible.

People who have been exposed to asbestos fibres in their workplace are at greater risk. Fields of such work include:

  • Mining or milling asbestos
  • Manufacture and repair of goods using raw asbestos fibres, such as brake linings
  • Using products containing asbestos, for instance in building and construction, heating, shipyards, power stations, boiler making and plumbing
  • Alteration, repair or demolition of buildings or other structures containing asbestos
  • N.B. Some people have contracted mesothelioma after brief and unexpected exposure – others 30 years after home renovations, after holiday work as a labourer, or as a result of shaking and washing asbestos-dusted clothing

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What are Asbestos Diseases?

Pleural plaque

Pleural plaque is not a cancer and it does not cause cancer. It can take up to seven years to develop after asbestos exposure before it can be seen on a chest X-ray or CT scan. A plaque is a thickening patch known as fibrosis on the pleura. The pleura is the two layers of membrane that line the chest wall and cover the lungs. Pleural plaques are the appearance of discrete patches of thickening on the lining of the chest wall and over the diaphragms in the pleural membranes that surround the lungs.

Asbestosis

Asbestosis is not a cancer but is a serious disease. It may take up to ten years after asbestos exposure to develop. When asbestos fibres stay in the lungs, scar tissue forms around them. This scar tissue may increase over time and hamper the movement of oxygen into the blood stream. Someone presenting with asbestosis will often feel short of breath, chest tightness and crackles will be heard upon listening to the chest.

Asbestosis can slowly progress over time and it is usually found in people who have had significant exposure to asbestos. There is currently no cure for this disease, however treatment may prolong and improve quality of life.

Mesothelioma

Mesothelioma is a rare form of cancer that is associated with asbestos exposure. It can take up to 25-40 years after exposure to develop. The risk of developing mesothelioma may be directly related to how much asbestos exposure one has had and for how long.

Mesothelioma may occur in one or more places in the cells covering the surface of lungs and the lining of the chest wall (the pleura), the abdomen (the peritoneum) or the sac-like space around the heart (the pericardium). In some rare cases mesothelioma may occur in other parts of the body such as the ovaries or testes.

Pleural mesothelioma

This cancer, associated with asbestos exposure, occurs in the cells of the pleura which is a membrane lining the surface of lungs and lining the inside of the chest wall. It forms growths, shaped like small pieces of cauliflower, and these grow and spread to surrounding areas. The tumour may eventually totally envelop the entire lung. A very common sign of pleural mesothelioma is pleural effusion, which is a build up of fluid on the lungs.

Someone with pleural mesothelioma may experience severe chest pain, pleural effusion, a dry cough and breathlessness. There is currently no cure for this disease, however treatment may prolong and improve quality of life.

Peritoneal mesothelioma

This type of cancer that is associated with asbestos exposure can be found around the outside of the coils of the intestine. Lining the abdominal cavity is a membrane (the peritoneum) similar in character and thickness to the pleura. It is similar tissue to the pleura and like it can give rise to a malignant tumour called peritoneal mesothelioma. Symptoms make include a painful and swollen abdomen, nausea, vomiting, fever and possibly bowel and urinary problems.

Pericardial mesothelioma

Pericardial mesothelioma is a rare form of asbestos related cancer. This form of cancer affects the lining that surrounds the heart, and is associated with long term exposure to asbestos fibres. The pericardium is the sac-like space around the heart and this is where the malignant tumour is likely to grow.

There are several main symptoms to look out for with pericardial mesothelioma. These include persistent coughing, shortness of breath, chest pain and heart palpitations.

A common sign of pericardial mesothelioma is pericardial effusion, or a collection of fluid in the sac that surrounds the heart.

Lung cancer

Lung cancer may occur amongst anyone who has been exposed to asbestos. If diagnosed early the cancers may be totally removed by surgery. It is suggested that those who have been exposed to asbestos and smoke cigarettes are particularly prone to develop lung cancer.

 

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