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The dangers of asbestos

By Jeff Lakie

If you read the newspaper or watch the nightly news, chances are you've heard about some of the dangers of asbestos. What is often ignored in these messages, however, is that asbestos also has a number of useful properties. If used responsibly and maintained in good condition, asbestos can be beneficial without causing harm.

What is asbestos? The term refers to microscopic, naturally occurring fibrous silicate minerals. These minerals have been used for years by the construction industry. The three most common types of asbestos are chrysotile, amosite, and crocidolite. Asbestos is commonly used in insulation, fireproofing, roofing, flooring, and other building materials. The strength of the fibers and asbestos's resistance to heat make these materials very useful.

Why, then, are people afraid of asbestos? Well, asbestos is a carcinogenic, toxic substance. Asbestos-containing materials are not a health risk if they are left undisturbed. However, if these materials become damaged, the asbestos fibers separate and become airborne. This is when human exposure is likely to occur, as asbestos may be inhaled into the lungs.

While no “safe level” of exposure has been determined, health problems are more common with greater and longer exposure to the fibers. Some of these health problems include asbestosis, mesothelioma, and lung cancer. It is not true that asbestos causes headaches or sore muscles, as many once believed. Immediate health issues like these are rarely seen. In actuality, most damaging health effects of asbestos exposure don't surface until many years later. Perhaps this is why building buyers prefer to err on the side of caution when asbestos inspections are done.

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has developed a program for schools and other building owners in order to keep asbestos fiber levels low. In an effort to protect students and residents, the program aims to teach people how to recognize asbestos-containing materials. It also educates people about how to manage these materials and how to avoid exposure. With proper education and careful management, health risks from asbestos can theoretically be prevented.

About the author:
Jeff Lakie is the founder of Asbestos Resources a website providing information on asbestos

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