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Asbestos and its Impact to the Environment

Previously a common component of a lot of construction materials and household products, asbestos continues to threaten both human health and the environment even decades after its use was discontinued.

Let’s take a look at this harmful substance and its impact to the environment.


What is Asbestos?

Asbestos is a silicon-based mineral that is known for its fire-retardant and insulating qualities. Such qualities made it an ideal component for construction materials, particularly those that were intended for heating systems. Old houses that are still in use today would most likely have asbestos in roofing shingles, vinyl floors, ceiling tiles, and pipe casings among others. Its use was finally discontinued around the early 1980s, however, once it was discovered to cause health problems.


What makes Asbestos harmful?

Asbestos fibers are tiny, so small that they are not visible to the naked eye. In fact, one would need a powerful microscope to visualize these fibers, as a normal household microscope still would not suffice. When undisturbed, asbestos fibers do not pose a threat to human health. However, it is when these fibers are released to the air (such as when mining for the material) that it starts to become harmful. Once these tiny fibers contaminate the air, they are easily inhaled into the lungs, where they may stay lodged for years before any symptoms of a respiratory problem start to show.


How does asbestos impact the environment?

Asbestos does not only affect human health, but also the environment. When asbestos is disturbed, it can contaminate the air and easily find its way to the water supply where it can just as easily be ingested by both humans and animals. Also, asbestos fibers do not biodegrade nor break down, so even when they settle on soil surfaces, they will remain atop the soil intact and be easily disturbed back into the air and possibly inhaled. This poses a threat to both humans and animals alike.


Asbestos risks are still around today. This is why workers who deal with such hazardous substances should undergo special trainings like The Asbestos Institute’s HAZWOPER certification. This will equip workers with the necessary knowledge and skill to know what to do when unexpected health and environmental situations arise.