Staying Safe Around Asbestos, The Hidden Killer
One of the most commonly fielded questions here at MIRA Safety is whether the gear we sell can protect one from asbestos exposure. Given how commonplace asbestos is in modern-day America, particularly in older homes and buildings, this is a genuine concern that many people have any time they move somewhere new where construction is required.
People tend to know that asbestos is dangerous, but they sometimes need to learn the best steps to avoid exposure.
To get a solid grasp on Asbestos 101, and see how MIRA Safety can help keep you safe when you're going to be working around asbestos, check out what we have to say below.
TABLE OF CONTENTS
What is Asbestos?
Where is Asbestos Found?
What Can Asbestos Do to You?
How to Avoid Asbestos
Frequently Asked Questions
What is Asbestos?
Currently, six different groupings of minerals are regulated as asbestos. Approximately 400 types of asbestos aren't regulated. The regulated forms are chrysotile, amosite, crocidolite, tremolite, anthophyllite, and actinolite. Of these six types of asbestos, they can each be further grouped into one of two camps: serpentine asbestos or amphiboles, a needle-like form.
Of the two of these camps of asbestos, most of what one will encounter is chrysotile (white asbestos), as it comprises somewhere between 90-95% of all the asbestos fibers in the world.
The fibers are heat and chemical-resistant, do not conduct electricity, can withstand high humidity, have high tensile strength, and above all else, are cheap to manufacture.
(Image source: Image courtesy of Chrysotile. )
Due to these combined traits, asbestos was long known as the "miracle mineral" in the early years of its production. It has all the characteristics anybody would want to create various products or construct different buildings.
Widespread adoption of asbestos throughout the world rapidly came to the table. Some gas mask companies began to use asbestos in their filters for NBC protection, and even some cigarette companies began to incorporate asbestos into their filters once it was proven that smoking was unsafe. In each of these instances, asbestos was considered a safe means of protecting peoples' lungs.
(Image source: Image courtesy of Chrysotile. )
They were wrong.
Where is Asbestos Found?
Unfortunately, asbestos is relatively pervasive in the world around us. This is because, after World War II, asbestos use exploded within the United States. Asbestos was used in the brake pads of cars, building insulation, the shipyard industry, soundproof tiles for the music and film industry, the safe industry, flooring, roofing, gaskets, and several other building materials.
(Asbestos-lined pipe Image source: Image courtesy of Orin Zebest at Wikimedia Commons. )
While the United States has primarily ceased using asbestos, it is still heavily mined and used in other parts of the world, with Eastern Europe and Asia using it daily. Russia is the largest mining nation of asbestos, with estimates showing that their mines are loaded with so much of it that they could remain fully operational for the next 100+ years.
Russia, China, Kazakhstan, Brazil, Canada, Zimbabwe, and Canada are the most significant mining nations of asbestos, accounting for 96% of the global production of the wonder mineral in 2007. Canada used to hold the number one spot globally for asbestos production but has since lost its title.
(Sack of Russian asbestos Image source: Image courtesy of LukasKatlewa at Wikimedia Commons. )
What Can Asbestos Do to You?
Asbestos is commonly referred to as "the Hidden Killer" within the world of public health. Millions of people throughout history have been exposed to it – people are still exposed to it – and like Madame Curie walking around with a radioactive rock in her pocket, they're negatively impacted by it without ever knowing. The negative impact is mainly because it seems to take 20 years between the initial asbestos exposure and when symptomatic health consequences finally manifest.
A NOTE OF INTEREST
While 20 years is the typically publicized number of years it takes from initial asbestos exposure to the development of clinically recognizable disease, this time frame can be as long as 60 years. For some reason, not everyone exposed to asbestos will develop a disease. Genetic characteristics are thought to play a role in this, but the length of time exposed to asbestos is undoubtedly a factor.
The most well-publicized health consequence of asbestos exposure is mesothelioma, a highly aggressive cancer that targets the lungs. There are other variants, such as peritoneal mesothelioma, where the abdominal region is affected, but the lung version is what most people are familiar with.
(Mesothelioma. Image source: Image courtesy of Yale Rosen at Wikimedia Commons. )
A NOTE OF INTEREST
Peritoneal mesothelioma is likely caused by swallowing asbestos fibers. Eating contaminated food near a worksite could be a potential cause of this.
(Mesothelioma. Image source: Image courtesy of Guerinf at Wikimedia Commons. )
Typically, when somebody receives a diagnosis of mesothelioma, with treatment, they will have 12-21 months left to live. Of course, there are a lot of variances, but that tends to be the average.
However, other lung issues can derive from asbestos exposure too. Most notably, lung cancer.
According to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), for every 1000 workers in the United States, there will be five lung cancer and two asbestosis deaths directly linked to workplace exposure to asbestos. This isn't entirely unusual either, as approximately 125 million people worldwide are exposed to asbestos in some form through their work environment.
In 2000 alone, while there were 43,000 deaths from malignant mesothelioma worldwide, there were even more cases of other lung cancers caused as a direct result of asbestos exposure. While these other lung cancers may not be as aggressive as mesothelioma, they are still hazardous threats you want to avoid. You need your lungs.
Like most foreign materials to the body, if it can cause cancer in one organ, it can likely cause it elsewhere too. This rule of thumb once more proves to be true in the case of asbestos.
Just about any cancer imaginable can be traced back to asbestos exposure. The lungs, the larynx, the gastrointestinal tract, the pharynx, the mouth, ovaries, and kidneys can also develop cancer from asbestos exposure. While the ovaries may seem a strange place to develop asbestos-caused cancer, this is likely due to previous exposure to asbestos-contaminated talc powder. Many people know talc powder as baby powder.
(Talc. Image source: Image courtesy of Pelex at Wikimedia Commons.)
It was known for years that talc powder, in many cases, had asbestos in it. Still, after public awareness grew about the dangers of asbestos exposure, many companies started to move away from incorporating that mineral into their products.
In some cases, false claims were made by manufacturers that, after 1976, no asbestos could be found in their talc powder products. This could have led to vaginal exposure to talc powders in females (e.g., baby powder used on young girls), leading to the later development of ovarian cancers.
Annually, asbestos-related diseases kill 107,000 people throughout the world. This number is likely to be much higher, considering the high prevalence of asbestos use in the developed world, where underreporting of just about anything is commonplace.
(Shed made with asbestos. Image source: Image courtesy of Gordon Joly at Wikimedia Commons.)
Studies have also shown that asbestos exposure increases mortality of all causes and in all malignant neoplasms (cancers) in both genders. This increase is likely partly due to the chronic inflammation that asbestos causes within the human body, which is a key cause of disease.
Asbestos warts – skin lesions caused by asbestos fibers finding their way into openings within the skin – are another potential health consequence of exposure to this dangerous mineral. Asbestos warts are the least of one's worries regarding exposure to this deadly mineral. Still, nobody likes the idea of developing unsightly warts on their body, so this is certainly another – albeit minor – reason that you will want to take steps to protect yourself from asbestos.
How to Avoid Asbestos
The primary way somebody can avoid asbestos exposure is to ensure that they wear a high-quality respirator with an appropriately rated filter anytime they work around asbestos.
(Asbestos cleanup crew. Image source: Image courtesy of NAVFAC at Wikimedia Commons. )
MIRA Safety can help you with this. Not only do we offer a wide assortment of high-quality gas masks that militaries throughout the world use to protect their soldiers from chemical and biological warfare, but they can also help to keep you safe from asbestos exposure.
Our CM-6M gas mask would serve you well should you be working in an asbestos-contaminated area as it will not only seal off your face from exposure – protecting your respiratory passages and eyes – but the face shield on this mask provides for an extensive view of vision, allowing you to work unimpeded and without feeling as if you're attempting to work on a project while looking through a pair of toilet paper tubes.
A gas mask isn't much use without a filter, but once more, MIRA Safety has a wide range of filters to suit your needs perfectly.
When it comes to asbestos protection, you will want to make sure that you choose a filter with a P3 rating. This rating means that the filter will keep 99.9999+% of all particulates floating around in the air out of your lungs, giving you as clean air as possible to breathe.
We have three different filter options with a P3 rating that will give you the protection you need in these environments.
First is our NBC-77 filter
The NBC-77 SOF Filter will protect you from as wide an array of inhalational threats as possible. It will keep you safe from asbestos exposure and protect you from all known CBRN agents (including radioactive iodine), making this the most versatile filter we offer.
Suppose you want to use your gas mask and filter not only for protection against terrorist attacks, nuclear strikes, and maneuvering through a chemical spill but also for protecting your lungs against the asbestos in Granny's attic. In that case, this filter is the best choice out there.
The DotPro 320
We only have a few left in stock, but these DOTPro 320 filters feature a P3-rated component that will keep 99.9999+% of airborne particulates out of your lungs. We currently are running these at a very steep discount due to their not having as long of a shelf life (about seven years) compared to some of our other filters (the NBC-77 has a 20- year shelf life). Still, these can be a very economical option for protecting your work crew's lungs if you only have a few asbestos areas you'll be working in the near future.
Our lightest filter, the ParticleMax, not only has a P3 rating – again filtering out 99.9999+% of airborne particulates – but is also very comfortable to work with for long periods.
This filter has a 20-year shelf life, can keep you from breathing in viruses as well, and only weighs 100 grams, so you'll be able to work around the worksite all day without feeling as if you're getting a neck workout.
Wearing Protective Clothing
While wearing a respirator and filter is the first and most crucial step that one can take when they are working around asbestos, it's also imperative to wear protective clothing that can be washed off if you're working in areas with heavy asbestos contamination, such as in the asbestos removal industry.
(Asbestos removal. Image source: Image courtesy of NAVFAC at Wikimedia Commons. )
The reason for this is that asbestos can behave similarly to cigarette smoke. With cigarettes, one has to concern themselves with secondhand smoke and thirdhand smoke, where the chemical particulates nestle their way into clothing, couches, the seats of vehicles, etc.
When somebody sits on one of those surfaces or otherwise rustles them, a plume of those noxious cigarette substances rises into the air where people can breathe them.
The same thing happens with asbestos; only the consequences are more severe.
If somebody spends a lot of time working around asbestos, they will carry asbestos fibers in their clothing. They can then have those particles sprinkled into their vehicle chairs. If they go home immediately after work wearing the same clothing, they can cause those asbestos fibers to find their way into their home, where they may find a comfy seat on the living room couch.
(Asbestos cleanup. Image source: Image courtesy of Oregon Department of Transportation at Wikimedia Commons. )
This is the reason that one of the risk factors for developing mesothelioma is living with somebody who regularly works with asbestos. Even though the family member may have never been within 20 miles of the asbestos's initial source, they can still be impacted by a spouse, parent, or child who worked in that area.
Wearing protective clothing that can be rinsed off is a way to avoid this.
This is where the MIRA HAZ-SUIT can help to keep you safe. It is rated to protect people from lethal CBRN agents and can most certainly help protect you against asbestos. We sell many sizes of the HAZ-SUIT, and it is one of the best tools you'll find on the market to keep asbestos fibers from hitching a ride on your clothing back to the house.
TOf course, remember to protect your shoes and hands. Suppose you need a rapidly deployable means of rinsing off after working with asbestos. In that case, we sell a portable decontamination station to help you get all those fibers off your body.
Asbestos Exposure Carries Very Real Risks
You cannot afford to be passive when it comes to asbestos exposure. If you are involved in construction, demolition, older ship renovations, or any other industry where occupational asbestos exposure is relatively common, you must ensure that you are taking appropriate steps to protect yourself.
Even though the health consequences often take decades to develop within human beings formally, that time tends to come quicker than we think. The diseases associated with asbestos exposure rob not only people of many years of life but also rob them of the ability to enjoy many aspects of life during the years they are still here on earth.
So, do what you can to protect yourself and your family from everything that asbestos threatens.
Choose MIRA Safety.
FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS
On a global scale, it doesn't appear so. However, this is partially due to some developing nations only recently collecting data on asbestos exposure. These newest additions to the data pool result in an increase in cases throughout the world.
While all forms of asbestos are formally banned in 52 countries, there are still plenty of countries where asbestos is not prohibited, and there are still plenty of buildings and ships throughout the "banned" countries that are loaded with asbestos. While you may not be able to build anything with asbestos in those countries, you can still quickly encounter asbestos during demolition projects.
Also, while 400 different types of asbestos minerals exist, only six are regulated within the United States. We will likely discover that some of those other 400 are carcinogenic in the future. This means that there could be some of those different varieties in your area that are not illegal, but you are exposed to with some degree of frequency.
Unfortunately, no. This would make for much easier field identification in an area where asbestos may be. The only ways to identify asbestos are by sight and knowledge of when the building was constructed that you are working in. If you're involved in construction work overseas, then knowledge of that country's stance on asbestos is also vital.
For example, somebody working on a building in Ukraine would need to know that asbestos is everywhere. The best defense in these cases is to make sure that proper personal protective equipment is kept close at hand when asbestos presence is suspected.
While all recognized forms of asbestos are naturally occurring silicate fibers that can be mined out of the earth, none are safe. This is in contrast to what many of the asbestos industry (it still exists) like to claim. Many reports – primarily funded by the asbestos industry – say chrysolite is a safe form of asbestos to use and that it does not cause human injury.