Asbestos is a group of six minerals that occur naturally on serpentinite rocks in the form of thin fibres which when disturbed pose danger to human health. It has properties such as fire resistance, durability and inability to conduct electricity. Asbestos has been used ever since ancient times, but it gained popularity at the start of the 20th century owing to the Industrial Revolution. Unfortunately, despite the countless practical applications of asbestos, the mineral is a known human carcinogen, notorious for causing life-threatening diseases such pleural mesothelioma. 

What is pleural mesothelioma? 

It is a type of cancer that develops on the outer lining of the lungs (pleural lining), has very aggressive progress and has a median life expectancy of only one year. Post asbestos exposure, mesothelioma has a long latency period and occurs only within 20 to 50 years of first exposure. Pathologists and asbestos exposure experts report that a dose-response relationship between asbestos and mesothelioma does exist, but genetics might play a major role in individual risk of developing cancer. The type of asbestos is also very important. The most common form of asbestos, chrysotile, does not have a strong correlation to coming down with mesothelioma which occurs even with low levels of exposure. The amphibole forms of asbestos (amosite, crocidolite, actinolite, anthophyllite and tremolite) are more likely to cause mesothelioma than chrysotile. 

In this article, asbestos and pleural mesothelioma are evaluated by answering the following questions: 

  • How much asbestos is dangerous?
  • What does asbestos do to lungs?
  • GRT’s industry best practice for asbestos dust control? 

How much asbestos is dangerous? 

Any amount is too much – it isn’t the quantity of the asbestos fibres you inhale but where they land in your lungs. Of course, the odds increase with the quantity inhaled. Our lungs are very efficient at self-cleaning but if one of these fibres embeds itself in the lining of our lung it stays there forever. They have little microscopic barbs that keep them from coming out. They work their way to the mesothelial tissue surrounding the lung. This causes continuous irritation to the tissue which eventually leads to cancer. It is a very specific type of cancer because it affects the mesothelial tissue making it a sure bet as to the cause. Is there a safe exposure for asbestos? – asbestos in its undisturbed form is safe but the challenge comes when it is disturbed and how you are exposed to it. The answers to this question are multifaceted depending on proximity to a material that has asbestos, inhalation of asbestos fibres and ingestion which could be eating or drinking something that has asbestos in it. For the sake of our argument which refers to pleural mesothelioma, we focus more on proximity and inhalation. Asbestos is EVERYWHERE. If you do have an older home, it’s there. Schools have it. Workplaces have it. Asbestos was heaving used in the mid-century, and even to this day it is used in manufacturing. Chances are you have been around asbestos-containing materials and didn’t even know it! Asbestos is harmless when it’s intact and not friable, but once it starts to break apart or create dust, you’ve got a significant problem leading to inhalation. If asbestos is airborne in any way, there is no ‘safe’ exposure. Friable asbestos, in fibre form found in respirable dust, causes health problems. We reiterate that again there is NO safe amount of asbestos inhalation and risk increases with continued exposure. 

What does asbestos do to the lungs?

Asbestos exposure is the main cause of mesothelioma. After these fibres are breathed in, they travel to the ends of small air passages and reach the pleura where they cause physical damage to mesothelial cells that may result in cancer. In addition, they also cause injury to lung cells that can result in lung cancer and/or asbestosis which is a replacement of lung tissue with scar tissue. Once asbestos is inhaled, the lungs have a hard time getting rid of the sharp fibres. These fibres eventually build up in the lungs over time and after many years, these fibres may cause cancerous changes. Cancer starts in mesothelial cells, which comprise the protective membranes that cover the lungs. Tumours tend to form a sheath around the affected lungs.

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The possible mechanisms for asbestos-related pleural mesothelioma development are as follows:

  • Inflamed cells due to asbestos fibre exposure which irritates mesothelial cells, leading to irreversible scarring, cellular damage and cancer.
  • Genetic changes owing to asbestos fibres entering mesothelial cells and disrupting their life cycle resulting in genetic changes that lead to cancer. 
  • Cancerous mutations caused by exposure to asbestos dust which results in production of free radicals, which are molecules that damage DNA and cause healthy cells to mutate. 
  • Asbestos fibres triggers the production of oncoproteins which block genes that protect cells from growing uncontrollably and forming tumours. 

We now have a good grasp of the biology, let us now address what can be done in unplanned disturbance of asbestos materials. Natural disasters such as storms, wildfires, earthquakes destroy buildings that have asbestos material. What can you use to prevent asbestos dust from being airborne at its source as a form of best practice?  

Industry best practice for asbestos dust control

Asbestos is only dangerous in its “friable” state and what that means is that don’t breathe in any dust created by grinding or busting up solid tiles. Maintain its integrity and you reduce the risk of exposure to asbestos dust. Removal of asbestos causes it to become friable and, in most cases, demolition works, wildfires that destroy buildings and any activities that generate building rubble which has asbestos need to be handled with care. Asbestos is either serpentine or amphibole in nature. Both forms of asbestos are hydrophilic in nature but since there exist in composite materials it is important to achieve their dust control use dual performing (hydrophilic and hydrophobic) dust suppressant which must be sprayed to bind, coat and prevent the spread of asbestos dust from its parent source. 

GRT has always been committed in finding solutions for demolition and recovery site dust control. GRT Rubble-Loc is a cost-effective dust and wind erosion control technology designed for use on dynamic sites such as demolitions sites, material stockpiles and natural disaster sites both for emergency and recovery or reconstruction phase. Hazardous substances such as asbestos can become airborne when buildings and other structures are demolishes or because of natural disasters. GRT Rubble-Loc provides contractors, regulators and surrounding residents peace of mind that dust and potential contaminants can be locked down onsite. 

Exposure to inhalable and respirable asbestos fibres results in different mechanisms that lead to pleural mesothelioma. Asbestos dust control at its source is a matter of saving lives and NO amount of asbestos exposure is safe. Prevention is better than cure! Reach out to GRT to inquire about how their asbestos dust control plan can suit your demolition site for workplace and community safety and health. 

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Asbestos. Retrieved 07/07/21. 

Asbestos. Retrieved 07/07/21.

Asbestos Exposure and Cancer Risk. Retrieved 07/07/21. 

When is Asbestos Dangerous? Retrieved 07/07/21.