Asbestos is a mineral which occurs naturally in the Earth. It has a number of desirable characteristics which is why it has been used widely in industry. It has been used for insulating walls, pipes, ceilings, boilers, etc. It has also been used to fireproof buildings and in floor tiles. Mining for this mineral started around 4000 years ago and it was at its peak in the 70’s. The largest mine of this substance is in Asbestos, Quebec. Eventually, it was noticed that people living near the mines were experiencing early deaths.
So what makes it so dangerous? It’s a fibrous mineral. The fibers are really small. They aren’t even visible to the eye. They don’t pose any threat when left undisturbed or intact. The danger is when the fibers are disturbed and then inhaled. Asbestos is very hazardous when crumbled. As long as it isn’t leaking or damaged, there’s no threat. Otherwise, the fibers will float everywhere and can even be inhaled.
What happens when you inhale asbestos? You may get a serious disease such as asbestosis, mesothelioma or malignant lung cancer. How long you have been exposed to the mineral will determine the seriousness of the disease. Smoking will obviously only make matters worse. The risk of getting lung cancer increased by as much as 50 times when exposed to asbestos and smoking at the same time.
Due to such dangers of asbestos to the health and welfare of people, its mining has been decreased to less than half of what it was back in the 70’s. It is also prohibited for anyone to work in areas where there are high asbestos levels. If it cannot be avoided, employees have strict instructions to not disturb the asbestos in the area in any way. They can’t saw, break or drill anything. The asbestos exposure is also monitored before the project, during and even after. This is done to ensure the levels aren’t too high at any point and that the employees are always safe.
In order to further minimize dependence on this substance, substitutes have been invented. There are a few countries which use fiberglass, glass wool or mineral wool for the purpose of insulation. One other fiber that is used is called polybenzimidazole. This has a very high melting point and is mostly used by the fire department.