All asbestos materials can pose a deadly health risk! It’s the reason why, in 1985, the UK finally banned the most toxic types of asbestos fibres, i.e. brown (amosite) and crocidolite ( blue) from being widely used in an extensive variety of insulation materials produced for manufacturing, engineering, construction and other industries, such as shipbuilding, railway and car assembly.
Despite the growing asbestos awareness of the fatal consequences, which often led to asbestosis disease and mesothelioma cancers among the countless thousands of workers employed mostly in the north of England, The Midlands, Scotland, South Wales and around the south east coast, white (chrysotile) asbestos imports were still not banned until 1999 and use only stopped completely in early 2005.
The actual reason for the delay revolves around a few key factors, which can still misinform opinion to assume a ‘low risk’ presence when white asbestos is either uncovered today by building firms or is not being correctly managed in public buildings, such as in schools, colleges and hospitals.
The ‘serpentine’ fibres of white chrysotile asbestos tend to be more flexible, longer and thinner than the fibres of the rigid, needle-like and insoluble ‘amphibole’ varieties of amosite and crocidolite. Consequently, the versatility of chrysotile as well as the low cost availability accounted for the majority of asbestos use across all industries. Many companies would often not provide either health information or protective equipment/clothing to their workers.
There is a difference to the evolution of asbestosis disease, which often develops after the asbestos fibres are inhaled. The sharp pointed amosite and crocidolite fibres would pierce the linings of the lungs (pleura), and embed themselves more permanently and are extremely difficult for the body to expel. This contrasts with the body’s ‘clearance rate’ for chrysotile, which can be broken down into smaller particles.
However, the presence of asbestos can cause severe tissue inflammation, leading to scarring of the lung linings (pleural plaques), thickening of the lungs themselves (pleural thickening) and a build up of liquid ( pleural effusion). Tissue cells can also become cancerous, forming the tumours of the incurable mesothelioma cancer, which often spreads to adjacent tissues and organs.
The unusually long gestation period of up to 50 years means that mesothelioma or asbestosis symptoms will often appear at a late stage of the disease when survival rates from a confirmed diagnosis can be less than 6 months.
However, the properties of chrysotile contrasting with other asbestos types and the way the body deals the ingested fibres means that the perceived risk tends to be lower. But this does not imply that there is no risk at all! The Health And Safety Executive (HSE) make clear provision through the Control of Asbestos at Work Regulations (CAR 2006) for the precise control and management of white asbestos through leaving undisturbed and encapsulated rather than risk releasing fibres into the air in an attempt at removal.
Despite of the legal requirements, there is still considerable lack of knowledge, misinformation or financial reasons behind the reported activities of some premises owners and/or removal firms. Consequently, HSE claim more than 1.8 million people in the UK are annually exposed to asbestos with at least 2,000 cases of mesothelioma diagnosed every year.