Sunday, May 30, 2010

To ban or not to ban that is the question: Asbestos

image stolen from here

I’m pretty sure that everyone knows what Asbestos is. Asbestos is commonly used in

•Roofing, guttering and flexible building boards (eg Villaboard, Hardiflex, etc). Similar cement sheeting products are used today, but are 'asbestos free'
•cement sheeting (fibro)
•drainage and flue pipes
•brakes, clutches and gaskets

Most countries have banned the use of asbestos due to the health hazards it imposes (USA, New Zealand, Australia etc.) Three of the major health effects associated with asbestos exposure include:

Asbestosis -- Asbestosis is a serious, progressive, long-term non-cancer disease of the lungs. It is caused by inhaling asbestos fibers that irritate lung tissues and cause the tissues to scar. The scarring makes it hard for oxygen to get into the blood. Symptoms of asbestosis include shortness of breath and a dry, crackling sound in the lungs while inhaling. There is no effective treatment for asbestosis.

Lung Cancer -- Lung cancer causes the largest number of deaths related to asbestos exposure. People who work in the mining, milling, manufacturing of asbestos, and those who use asbestos and its products are more likely to develop lung cancer than the general population. The most common symptoms of lung cancer are coughing and a change in breathing. Other symptoms include shortness of breath, persistent chest pains, hoarseness, and anemia.

Mesothelioma -- Mesothelioma is a rare form of cancer that is found in the thin lining (membrane) of the lung, chest, abdomen, and heart and almost all cases are linked to exposure to asbestos. This disease may not show up until many years after asbestos exposure. This is why great efforts are being made to prevent school children from being exposed.

Asbestos poses health risks only when fibers are present in the air that people breathe. How exposure to asbestos can affect you depends on:

• The concentration of asbestos fibers in the air;
• How long the exposure lasted;
• How often you were exposed;
• The size of the asbestos fibers inhaled; or
• The amount of time since the initial exposure.

Smoking, combined with inhaled asbestos, greatly increases the risk of lung cancer.

Minimizing Your Risk

Construction and maintenance workers should avoid creating asbestos dust from scraping, brushing, rubbing or cutting damaged insulation. Insulation damage should be reported to the appropriate authority, such as the Occupational Health and Safety Manager. If you work in this area, determine whether asbestos is present before beginning work and take appropriate precautionary measures.

Public and commercial building owners should keep an inventory of asbestos-containing materials to inform users, authorities and contractors.

Homeowners should receive expert advice before removing materials that may contain asbestos. If you think your home may contain asbestos, check regularly for signs of wear or damage. However, you can't always tell just by looking at a material. If in doubt, have it analyzed by a qualified professional. When cutting, breaking and drilling asbestos roofing sheets care should be taken as not to inhale any particles.

If you must handle small amounts of damaged asbestos-containing materials, follow these steps:
• Keep other people and pets away, and seal off the work area;
• Wet the material to reduce dust, making sure it is not in contact with electricity;
• If possible, do not cut or damage the materials further and do not break them up;
• Clean the work area afterwards using a damp cloth, not a vacuum cleaner, and seal the asbestos waste and cloth in a plastic bag. Check with your local municipality on how to dispose of asbestos-containing waste;
• Wear appropriate protective clothing, including a single-use respirator approved by the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH); and
• Wash or dispose of clothing and shower after finishing the job.

Is there a risk for people living in houses which contain asbestos?

a review conducted by the Unit of Environmental Cancer Epidemiology, International Agency for Research on Cancer, Lyon, France, suggests a substantial increase in risk of pleural mesothelioma following high environmental exposure to asbestos; however, the available data are insufficient to estimate the magnitude of the excess risk at the levels of environmental exposure commonly encountered by the general population in industrial countries. However a study conducted by the Cancer Research Campaign suggests that low-dose exposure to asbestos at home or in the general environment carries a measurable risk of malignant pleural mesothelioma. Sri Lanka started using Asbestos extensively during the 80’s and since the effects of asbestos takes up to 20-30 years to appear, it shouldn’t be long till we see some nasty side effects. Taking into consideration the information that we have at the moment Sri Lanka should make a firm decision about asbestos, if we are going to keep asbestos or ban it, and as a profession which deals with these materials Architects also should make a move and take action regarding this.

Sources of information More information can be found in the links below


Anonymous said...

Is it true that all these hazards are only from RED ASBESTOS? And that Red asbestos is not used in Sri Lanka? That's what an architect friend told me.

Arkitekton said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Arkitekton said...

White asbestos is known to be a human carcinogen

Which is readily available and used widely in the construction industry in Sri Lanka.

Anonymous said...

Now if you ban these - the so-called master architects of Sri Lanka will not be able to enjoy the 'vernacular' Sri Lankan roof!!!!! In fact what Geoffrey Bawa did was to hide the monster under several layers of tiles - not so clever is it now?

Arkitekton said...

Thats not entirely true. The so- called Sri Lankan vernacular roof was originally done without the use of asbastos. its just easier use asbastos