The Asbestos Removal Industry: Cure or Curse?
From a wonder mineral of the ages to one of humanity’s worst curses. This is the history of asbestos in a nutshell. And the background of one of the most controversial industries today, the asbestos removal industry.
The ancients considered asbestos to be magical and wove it into cloth. But during the Industrial Revolution, it came into widespread use for its heat- and chemical-resistant properties, mainly as insulation in turbines, boilers, furnaces and ovens. It is also highly resistant to electricity. The 20th century saw even more widespread use of asbestos in buildings and homes, cars and clothing. Asbestos products such as asbestos cement sheet walls and ceilings and asbestos shingles were popular in residential construction as they were believed to reduce fire risks. It is also used in plumbing and sewage systems. One of the most serious users of asbestos was actually the US military, especially the Navy, which used huge amounts in the construction of warships and other vessels.
This was despite growing evidence of the health hazards caused by asbestos exposure. Diseases associated with asbestos exposure include asbestosis, lung cancer, mesothelioma, a specific form of cancer directly caused by asbestos exposure, pleural plaques, and pleural thickening.
In fact, many large asbestos companies continued to use it in construction and manufacturing well into the 1980s. They would hide their health hazard findings to avoid multi-million dollar lawsuits filed by asbestos cancer victims. But after the evidence was clarified, the government began to ban the use of asbestos. Today, 60 countries have full or partial bans.
In the US, although the EPA does not have a blanket ban on the use of asbestos, it was one of the first pollutants regulated by the Clean Air Act and its use in many applications banned by the Toxic Substances Control Act.
With so much asbestos in houses and buildings, the problem now was how to remove it safely. This started what is now a multi-billion dollar asbestos removal industry. Much of the asbestos used in buildings comes in what’s called a bonded form, meaning it’s mixed with another material like cement that’s unlikely to be released at harmful levels unless disturbed or fractured.
On the other hand, friable asbestos can easily become dusty and released into the air as dangerous crystals that can be inhaled. Its most common use is in fire retardants sprayed on the walls of buildings and houses.
Because asbestos removal is a dangerous business, all asbestos removal and removal workers are considered professionals who must undergo state-approved training and certification. They are strictly required to wear protective clothing and equipment to reduce asbestos emissions. Do-it-yourself asbestos removal, although possible, is not recommended.
However, the growing demand for asbestos abatement services is also fueling debate about the extent of the asbestos hazard or whether the asbestos removal industry is simply cashing in on popular fears. There are also concerns about unscrupulous asbestos abatement companies following the prosecution of contractors hiring undocumented workers to carry out illegal removal work, thereby exposing people to potentially painful or fatal health hazards.
In the end, though, as the saying goes, better safe than sorry. With proper regulation and enforcement, it is best to have an asbestos removal industry to safely remove an environmental and health threat that has long been with us.
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