Hero or Villain? Do you know your Kryptonite from your Amosite?
Both the above substances are incredibly powerful and indeed I’m willing to bet both would do Superman some harm! Whereas Kryptonite is Superman’s nemesis, Amonite affects more than just our cape-wearing superhero. Amosite is one of three common types of asbestos (crocidolite and chrysotile are the other two common forms) and this trio of danger kills around 5000 people a year (more people than are killed in road accidents).
But these pompous scientific names mean nothing to me I hear you cry; what actually is asbestos? Asbestos occurs naturally in rock and looks a little like candyfloss in it’s fluffy consistency. First mined in the mid 1800’s, it became marketed as a magic mineral due to it’s resistance to heat, electricity and chemical corrosion; the perfect concoction to be used within the construction industry! It is estimated that around 3000 products contain asbestos; items such as insulation coatings for boilers, plant and pipework, insulation board used in fire protection to doors, cladding on walls and ceilings, partition walls and suspended ceiling tiles, corrugated roofing and cladding sheets of buildings, rainwater gutters and downpipes. However, asbestos was not the heroic material it set out to be and soon became known as the villain of this story as it is highly toxic and can cause serious damage to your health. And before you pop your kids in that heirloom outfit that is decades old, think again; asbestos was also used in clothing due to it’s fire resistant properties. Our toxic enemy really reared it’s head in both Hurricane Katrina and the fall of the World Trade Centre as catastrophic levels of asbestos became airborne! Luckily we have some superheroes in our midst headed up by The Control of Asbestos Regulations (2012) which mean asbestos is no longer used as a building material (post 2000) and workers are well protected from the risks of asbestos.
Most importantly, if you’re not sure what a material is don’t disturb it, stop work and inform a supervisor. Much as we sometimes see ourselves as superman (especially after a couple of pints), asbestos is never one to take on in battle so avoid it! So other than becoming Superman (or any other superhero of choice), how can we protect ourselves? It is a legal requirement that you receive awareness training if you are likely to be exposed to asbestos. However prior to any work being carried out in building built pre 2000 employers must carry out a survey and work is planned to prevent workers being exposed. ACM’s (asbestos containing materials) are identified and recorded including noting the location and condition of any asbestos; these records are then available to anyone working in this environment.Unfortunately even though we have protective systems in place, asbestos is still the biggest occupational disease risk to construction workers. Once asbestos fibres are in the body, they never dissolve and are there forever. However, if you don’t wake our big “A” monster, then you are at no risk, by that I mean don’t go cutting, drilling or breaking into any suspected asbestos that will cause the fibres to become airborne. Excuse the pompous science bit again; once the fibres are airborne they penetrate deep into the lung where they remain, leading to diseases such as asbestosis (fibrous scarring of the lungs), lung cancer, mesothelioma (cancer of the lining of the lung and the lining surrounding the lower digestive tract) and diffuse pleural thickening (a thickening/swelling of the lining surrounding the lung). This diseases generally do not effect you immediately and can take between 15-60 years to develop but most are fatal.
For more information on asbestos related to the workplace please visit https://www.hse.gov.uk/asbestos/
For further information about asbestos in domestic situations please see https://www.gov.uk/asbestos-in-home