We’ve been hearing about the dangers of asbestos for many years, but what exactly is asbestos and why is it so dangerous?
Asbestos is a naturally-occurring mineral that contains silicate compounds and oxygen. It’s been in use since the dawn of the Industrial Revolution back in the late 1800’s when it was discovered to have many useful properties, including fire, heat, and corrosion resistance. As a result, it’s been popular for a wide variety of residential, commercial, and industrial applications, including building insulation, vehicle brake linings, roofing, fireproofing, and much more.
However, scientists noticed as early as the 1930s that workers in regular contact with asbestos often suffered from lung problems and even early death. Health professionals determined that minute asbestos fibers were getting trapped in the tiny air sacs deep in the lungs, called alveoli — inflaming them, scarring lung tissue, and often causing cancer. However, the material remained in broad use for decades, peaking in the mid-70’s, after which its used began to decline when the US Dept. of Health labeled asbestos a carcinogen and a number of countries closely regulated it or banned it outright. The United States still allows some use of asbestos, but heavily regulates it and bans its use in many products and applications. The European Union has taken the most aggressive stance against asbestos, completely banning the mining of it as well as the manufacturing and processing of asbestos products.
Unfortunately, there is still a significant amount of asbestos at large. Many public buildings – including older schools and houses built before 1989 – can still have asbestos lurking in insulation and other construction products. Most recently, 9/11 first responders and cleanup workers at Ground Zero were exposed to massive amounts of asbestos that was used in the 1972 construction of the World Trade Center’s North Tower.
Demolishing older buildings that may contain asbestos requires special training, skills, and experience. When buildings are demolished, dust containing asbestos can be released into the air where it can be breathed not only by workers, but people living and working in the vicinity. If you’re considering tearing down or renovating an older building, it’s important to hire a demolition and site remediation company that has the trained personnel, equipment, and processes in place that efficiently trap, contain, and remove all asbestos particles. Complete and effective asbestos removal can help prevent health hazards now and in the future.