Public Health and the Asbestos Threat – Should You Be Concerned?

Should you be concerned? Public health and the Asbestos threat |

After the steam pipe explosion in New York City in July this year, the public was reminded that asbestos is not a problem of the past, but a serious concern that surrounds us to this day. Although no one was visibly injured, the explosion released a thick cloud of toxic smoke confirmed to contain asbestos, a well-known human carcinogen.

While you may not be a resident of NYC, this event has been an eye-opening experience as we realize the toxicity behind old infrastructures on a global scale. Unfortunately, phasing out asbestos for good will not be easy. Existing asbestos will remain long after its initial use, but raising awareness on where it’s often found and how to reduce exposure will help undermine the threat of asbestos-related diseases

Small, Strong, and Deadly

Believe it or not, it was no surprise that asbestos was confirmed in the resulting smoke because it was used so frequently within construction-related products in the past. This natural mineral is composed of microscopic fibers recognized for their flexibility and fireproof qualities, a combination once considered perfect for building construction.

Once the industry discovered these characteristics, it was manufactured within thousands of products around the world. While you may live in a home built after 1980, asbestos-containing materials are still found within the framework of many old and historic properties, especially throughout major industrialized cities.

A Public Hazard

There are over 100 miles of steam pipes beneath the streets of New York City, now thought to be coated with asbestos after the air tested positive for contamination. This is just one toxic product that has managed to infiltrate schools, hospitals and other public buildings around the world. Insulation and roofing are only a few common products connected to exposure that should prompt caution and be regularly monitored.

For example, in the 1950s Australia was one of the biggest consumers worldwide, implementing asbestos cement manufacturing plants in every major city. This deep rooted connection can be seen through the 25% of homes that have been found to contain asbestos cement. These products are generally safe, but as time goes on asbestos fibers can age and begin to wear down.

In addition to corrosion, any disruption including maintenance, demolition, or an unfortunate disaster can cause fibers to become airborne and inhaled. This can become a serious danger because of their tendency to become lodged in the lungs and manifest into a number of serious diseases including the aggressive mesothelioma cancer. While this mineral is heavily regulated, and has been banned in Australia, for fifteen years (and the UK and Europe similarly, though it is not yet banned in the US) , it is still around us every day because of how hazardous removal can be.

What is Malignant Mesothelioma

Mesothelioma can develop in the lining of the lungs, heart, or stomach, and the only known cause of this cancer is exposure to asbestos. People may be exposed to these fibers while working in high-risk occupations, living or working on older properties, or even through second-hand contact. Although exposure may come from a number of sources, asbestos is particularly prevalent within industrial and construction equipment and is recognized as a leading cause of occupational cancer today.

The latency period following exposure continues to be a pressing concern, as symptoms can take more than 40 years to develop. This delay can sometimes result in a patient being diagnosed in the advanced stages of cancer. Although early detection is the best form of prevention, mesothelioma is extremely difficult to identify and diagnose because the symptoms match those of other diseases. Clinical trials have become increasingly significant for those diagnosed in the later stages of this disease, as it is often difficult to treat.

When to Be Concerned

Do not wait for Mesothelioma Awareness Day in September. We hope that anyone who may have been exposed speaks out and gets the medical attention they need in order to detect an asbestos-related illness as early as possible. If you live in a home or building you feel is at risk, read these guidelines in order to combat exposure as safely as possible.

It’s important to note that we are always exposed to low levels of asbestos because it exists in our natural environment, however, heightened or prolonged exposure is suggested to raise the risk of health complications. This is why those who work with asbestos-containing materials (ACMs) on a daily basis are most likely to develop an asbestos-related illness. Staying protected on the job is of the utmost importance, and employers and workers alike should keep occupational safety at the core of even the most menial tasks. With Australia having one of the highest rates of mesothelioma cases worldwide, learning the sources of exposure and when it’s time to take preventative action is vital to making a difference.

Rosie Rosati is dedicated to those who have been exposed to asbestos and those looking to learn more about it.