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12 asbestos myths: DEBUNKED

Nearly everyone has heard something about the dangers of asbestos, but we at Bainbridge e-Learning often hear a variety of misinformation surrounding this very hazardous material. We’ve compiled a list of 12 most common asbestos rumours in order to set the record straight, once and for all.

Myth #1: Asbestos is safe in small doses

While it’s true that unbroken (“contained”) asbestos is usually harmless, you need to be wary of broken asbestos-based materials. Whatever the variety of asbestos, when it’s broken into small pieces, the mineral can be breathed into lungs and cause irreparable damage.

It’s of paramount importance to be wary of disturbed asbestos-based materials, whatever the size.

Myth #2: Asbestos is only dangerous after long-term exposure

Although it’s unlikely that a few minutes– or even days –of exposure can cause severe illness later on, most people erroneously believe that mesothelioma and asbestosis are only contracted by those who have been exposed for a long period of time, like factory or mine workers. Short-term exposure to asbestos can be harmful to a person’s health.

Many people confuse asbestos’ long latency period with long-term exposure. While it’s true that asbestos-related diseases reveal themselves an average of 30 years after initial exposure – and those who are exposed to high levels of asbestos over a long period of time are at higher risk to develop asbestos-related illnesses – this doesn’t take away from how dangerous asbestos is. Each person’s physiological response to asbestos is different.

Myth #3: Asbestos only affects men

During the 20th century, men typically worked in industrial settings where asbestos exposure was more commonplace. Most of the cases of asbestos-related illnesses are directly linked to these types of jobs.

While it’s true that approximately four times as many men died from asbestos-related illnesses in 2014, this doesn’t mean that men are more susceptible to the dangers of asbestos materials.

Myth #4: Asbestos only affects those in construction industries

While it’s true that the highest rate of asbestos-related diseases is linked to former construction workers, there are a wide variety of careers that exposed workers to the material. Shipbuilders, carpenters, plumbers, and electricians make up a substantial portion of those that suffered from these fatal illnesses.

Myth #5: Asbestos is an old problem which doesn’t affect me

Though the UK banned the use of asbestos in 1999, it’s suspected that over half of the buildings across the country contain some asbestos. Experts also believe that more than 75% of schools in England contain some sort of asbestos product. In fact, between 2002 and 2010, 128 British school teachers died from mesothelioma.

Myth #6: There aren’t asbestos alternatives on the market

For centuries, asbestos was lauded as a ‘miracle’ material that controlled extreme temperatures and prevented fires. Today, industries have found replacements for this deadly material. Silica is woven into fabrics to withstand fire, polyurethane foam spray is an excellent replacement for asbestos insulation, and thermoset plastic flour is the automobile industry’s go-to for electrical insulation and other car parts.

While there isn’t really a single substance that can act in the full breadth and scope that asbestos can, there are definitely products available today that hold up to individual tasks just as well as this carcinogenic material.

Myth #7: Not all types of asbestos are dangerous

There are six varieties of asbestos, and while their mineral makeups are slightly different, they’ve all been classified as carcinogens. Chrysotile, also known as ‘white asbestos’, is known to be the least harmful form of asbestos (and the last to be banned from the UK). Though it’s less deadly than its other cousins, exposure is still considered extremely dangerous.

Myth #8: Asbestos is safe as long as you keep it wet

Many people mistakenly believe that wetting down disturbed asbestos materials is enough to keep asbestos fibres from being released into the air. Keeping these areas damp is only effective, however, when used as part of a properly-constructed ‘Safe System of Work’, and only with Chrysotile (white asbestos). All other types of asbestos are hydrophobic, allowing fibres to escape through the air via water and water-based wetting materials.

Myth #9: All asbestos products look the same

Asbestos commonly looks like fluffy attic insulation, but there is also a wide range of commercial products contains the mineral. Your cement garden shed, house siding and even wall partitions could be asbestos-based. Not only do an enormous variety of household products contain asbestos, but they can also be incredibly difficult to determine, so should you suspect something, it’s best to leave it to an expert.

Myth #10: Asbestos in your home/office should be removed immediately

The Health and Safety Executive has specific guidelines for how asbestos is to be treated and handled by licensed professional due to the fact that asbestos is at its most dangerous during the asbestos removal process. Not only is it a health risk for those removing the product, but asbestos fibres travel through the air and can be inhaled for days – even weeks – after improper removal.

If materials are starting to break, wear down or splinter, and you lack Asbestos Licensing, contact your local HSE office, or an independent asbestos surveyor or consultant to handle the issue.

Myth #11: If you’re wearing a dust mask, asbestos is safe to remove

A basic paper dust mask purchased at a hardware store is not sufficient for protection against asbestos fibres. What’s more, getting asbestos fibres in your hair or on your clothing can expose family and colleagues to it as well.

Myth #12: Refreshing asbestos awareness instruction and training isn’t necessary

Informational instruction and training on asbestos awareness are intended merely to assist workers in avoiding work that will disturb asbestos. While the Control of Asbestos Regulations of 2012 doesn’t mandate a yearly refresher awareness training course, the HSE recommends maintaining knowledge and awareness which can save the lives of employees.
With over 15 years’ experience of leading asbestos awareness courses, Bainbridge E-Learning prides itself on protecting the health and safety of UK residents. Sign up for your e-learning course today!