Dangers of Asbestos Siding
Asbestos, in its heyday, was as ubiquitous and flexible as plastic is today. But now, due to its discovered toxicity, asbestos has been banned in many countries, but remains present in many old buildings and items. Asbestos was actually used since ancient times and until now in developing countries. Builders try to strike a compromise between the health dangers of asbestos and affordability of construction materials like asbestos cement aka asbestos siding.
The dangers of asbestos siding are basically the same as the dangers of using any product infused with the naturally-occurring material.
The dangers include:
- Allergic reactions to the skin – pure asbestos causes rashes and itching when it comes in contact with the skin.
- Asbestosis – which is the inflammation and scarring of the lungs caused by the inhalation of asbestos particles in the air. Asbestosis symptoms include chest tightness, wheezing and shortness of breath.
- Lung cancer – is one of several complications of asbestosis
- Mesothelioma – another form of cancer which affects the thin lining of the internal organs, especially those lining the lungs and chest wall and lastly. Symptoms also include chest pain, difficulty in breathing and pain and swelling of the abdomen.
- Pulmonary heart disease
Asbestos was widely used to make fire-resistant fabrics, pottery, gas masks, drywall paint, as insulation material and finally for construction. Asbestos was determined to be highly toxic as early as 1906. The material became suspect in the early 1900s due to the alarming number of early deaths in asbestos mining towns. The first diagnosis of asbestosis was made in the UK in 1924 when sharp microscopic asbestos particles were discovered in the victim’s lungs. Despite the known dangers of asbestos, it wasn’t until 2003 that it was banned entirely by developed countries, though asbestos remains legal in the United States.
However, many other countries continue to mine and use the material despite the health risk. Russia continues to mine asbestos and produced about a million metric tons alone in 2015. As mentioned, asbestos was as ubiquitous and as flexible as plastic is today. The main difference to plastic is that asbestos is fireproof which makes it an ideal building material. Resistance to fire is the material’s claim to fame, plus asbestos’ flexibility allows manufacturers to make affordable, durable, thin, lightweight and fireproof construction materials such as asbestos siding, piping and shingles. Asbestos siding for example is made by mixing asbestos with Portland cement. Asbestos makes the cement lightweight, durable and flexible enough to be made into thin constructs of various shapes such as piping and roof tiles. Fabrics lined with asbestos is still in use by firemen in some countries.
Many buildings constructed with asbestos remain in use today and their deterioration causes the release of asbestos particles in the air. Cracks in the walls, ceilings and floors must be carefully inspected and when such happens needs to be carefully removed.
Currently, the dangers of asbestos siding are mainly during the cutting process as manufacturers hold their products in high regard. Asbestos particles are only released during cutting and breaking and workers are susceptible without the proper safety gear. Residents also become susceptible if the finished structure isn’t properly treated.
The most dangerous aspect of asbestos poisoning is that it isn’t immediately apparent. Symptoms could take from 10 to 30 years to develop and can easily be misdiagnosed. This treachery of diseases caused by asbestos is why developing countries prefer not to take chances and banned the material entirely.