Most people know that asbestos is dangerous. What not many people know, however, is how much of it is still around. It is found in a huge variety of products, as well as in many buildings. The reason why it is still present is because it is generally safe, so long as it doesn’t get disturbed. The problem is that, if it does get disturbed and asbestos particles travel into the air, they can be inhaled, leading to fatal illnesses.

So what are the top concerns when working around asbestos?

1. Asbestos Related Illnesses

There are two main illnesses caused by asbestos to be aware of and these are asbestosis and mesothelioma.

“Asbestos fibres can pass into the lungs where they can stay for many years. These tiny fibres can remain in the lungs for so long that they can lead to the development of asbestos-related diseases such as asbestosis (breathing difficulty) and mesothelioma (a type of cancer). There is no way to remove the fibres once they have reached the lungs and no cure for the diseases they cause.”

2. Low Safety Standards

Because there is now significant scientific knowledge about asbestos and its dangers, rules and regulations have been put in place to prevent people from placing themselves in danger. It is believed that one of the top reasons for workplace-related illnesses and death in the 20th century is asbestos, which is why governmental departments like the Occupational Health & Safety Administration (OSHA) has put rules and regulations in place to maintain workers’ safety. Unfortunately, not all employers stick to those regulations.

“Workers have a right to a safe workplace. The law requires employers to provide their employees with safe and healthful workplaces. The OSHA law also prohibits employers from retaliating against employees for exercising their rights under the law (including the right to raise a health and safety concern or report an injury).”

All those who work in areas where asbestos may be present are encouraged to check the OSH Act so that they are aware of their workers’ rights. Additionally, OSHA has facilities in place for anonymous whistleblowing. This means that if there is a concern, people can raise this immediately.

3. Smoking

Asbestos negatively affects the lungs. Asbestosis, mesothelioma, and lung cancer, all affect the lungs. Other forms of cancer are also possible as a result of asbestos exposure. The chance of developing mesothelioma as a result of working with asbestos is incredibly high, sometimes as much as 10% in certain industries. Those who smoke as well, increase their risk greatly, and it is believed that the same is true for secondary smoking.

“If you smoke and you have been exposed to asbestos, you are far more likely to develop lung cancer than someone who does not smoke and who has not been exposed to asbestos. If you work with asbestos or have been exposed to it, the first thing you should do to reduce your chances of developing cancer is to stop smoking.”

4. Working at 9/11 Ground Zero

When the World Trade Center was attacked on 9/11, the world stood still. Some of the unsung heroes of this disaster are the thousands of people who were involved in the cleanup operation. They placed themselves at tremendous risk, working in between unstable rubble and debris, with various contaminants around them. Unfortunately, they also exposed themselves to asbestos.

“Because asbestos was used in the construction of the North Tower of the WTC, when the building was attacked, hundreds of tons of asbestos were released into the atmosphere. Those at greatest risk include firefighters, police officers, paramedics, construction workers, and volunteers who worked in the rubble at Ground Zero.”

In addition, those who were present during the attacks and those who lived near the WTC are also at increased risk. We all remember the horrifying pictures of people coming out of the dust cloud after the collapse, and all of those people are at risk of having been exposed to asbestos. That dust cloud also spread quite widely, which means more people may have been exposed. They now receive regular checks, if they have come forward.

5. Sandblasting in Alaska

Although evidence has existed to show asbestos can cause fatal lung diseases since the 1920s, no formal action was taken for at least 20 years. While we would assume that knowledge that has been out there for nearly a century has now been fully implemented, the reality is that it hasn’t. This has been found in Seward Ship’s Dry Dock, in Alaska, particularly in relation to its sandblasting procedures.

“The ADEC issued a notice of violation to Seward Ship’s Drydock for uncontrolled “fugitive particulate emissions” at its sandblasting operations. If workers were sandblasting asbestos-containing materials such as paint, insulation or joint compounds off of a vessel, the asbestos fibers released were no longer confined to the sandblasted area and possibly inhaled by individuals elsewhere in the shipyard.”