#What is asbestos?
“Asbestos” is the name given to a group of minerals that
occur naturally as bundles of fibers which can be separated into thin
threads. These fibers are not affected by heat or chemicals and do not
conduct electricity. For these reasons, asbestos has been widely used in
many industries. Four types of asbestos have been used commercially:
* Chrysotile, or white asbestos;
* Crocidolite, or blue asbestos;
* Amosite, which usually has brown fibers; and
* Anthophyllite, which usually has gray fibers.
Chrysotile asbestos, with its curly fibers, is in the serpentine family of
minerals. The other types of asbestos, which all have rod-like fibers, are
known as amphiboles.
Asbestos fiber masses tend to break easily into a dust composed of tiny
particles that can float in the air and stick to clothes. The fibers may be
easily inhaled or swallowed and can cause serious health problems.
# How is asbestos used?
Asbestos was mined and used commercially in North America beginning in the
late 1800s. Its use increased greatly during World War II. Since then, it
has been used in many industries. For example, the building and construction
industry has used it for strengthening cement and plastics as well as for
insulation, fireproofing, and sound absorption. The shipbuilding industry
has used asbestos to insulate boilers, steampipes, and hot water pipes. The
automotive industry uses asbestos in vehicle brakeshoes and clutch pads.
More than 5,000 products contain or have contained asbestos. Some of them
are listed below:
* Asbestos cement sheet and pipe products used for water supply and sewage
piping, roofing and siding, casings for electrical wires, fire protection
material, electrical switchboards and components, and residential and
industrial building materials;
* Friction products, such as clutch facings, brake linings for automobiles,
gaskets, and industrial friction materials;
* Products containing asbestos paper, such as table pads and heat-protective
mats, heat and electrical wire insulation, industrial filters for beverages,
and underlying material for sheet flooring;
* Asbestos textile products, such as packing components, roofing materials,
and heat- and fire-resistant fabrics (including blankets and curtains); and
* Other products, including ceiling and floor tile; gaskets and packings;
paints, coatings, and adhesives; caulking and patching tape; artificial
ashes and embers for use in gas-fired fireplaces; plastics;
vermiculite-containing consumer garden products; and some talc-containing
In the late 1970s, the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) banned
the use of asbestos in wallboard patching compounds and gas fireplaces
because the asbestos fibers in these products could be released into the
environment during use. Additionally, asbestos was voluntarily withdrawn by
manufacturers of electric hair dryers. In 1989, the U.S. Environmental
Protection Agency (EPA) banned all new uses of asbestos; uses established
prior to 1989 are still allowed. The EPA has established regulations that
require school systems to inspect for damaged asbestos and to eliminate or
reduce the exposure to occupants by removing the asbestos or encasing it. In
June 2000, the CPSC concluded that the risk of children’s exposure to
asbestos fibers in crayons was extremely low. However, the U.S.
manufacturers of these crayons agreed to reformulate their products within a
year. In August 2000, the EPA recommended that consumers reduce possible
asbestos exposure from vermiculite-containing garden products by limiting
the amount of dust produced during use. The EPA suggested that consumers use
vermiculite outdoors or in a well-ventilated area; keep vermiculite damp
while using it; avoid bringing dust from vermiculite use into the home on
clothing; and use premixed potting soil, which is less likely to generate
The regulations described above and other actions, coupled with widespread
public concern about the hazards of asbestos, have resulted in a significant
annual decline in U.S. use of asbestos: Domestic consumption of asbestos
amounted to about 719,000 metric tons in 1973, but it had dropped to about
9,000 metric tons by 2002. Asbestos is currently used most frequently in
gaskets and in roofing and friction products.
# What are the health hazards of exposure to asbestos?
Exposure to asbestos may increase the risk of several serious diseases:
* Asbestosis—a chronic lung ailment that can produce shortness of breath,
coughing, and permanent lung damage;
* Lung cancer;
* Mesothelioma—a relatively rare cancer of the thin membranes that line the
chest and abdomen; and
* Other cancers, such as those of the larynx, oropharynx, gastrointestinal
tract, and kidney.
# How can the asbestos cancer be treated?
An Australian cell biologist has been performing trials on
laboratory mice to test the possible effectiveness of vitamin E on asbestos
related cancer, and he states that the results look promising. Jiri Neuzil
claims that the trials on mice have shown just how effective alpha-TOS –
which is related to vitamin E – can be in killing asbestos related cancer
The researcher is based in the Gold Coast, and he has high hopes for further
development and research into this type of treatment. He stated that the
treatment had killed asbestos cancer cells in mice, and that under a five
year study involving a number of researchers from Australia and Europe, the
treatment had also proven effective in halting the growth of tumors.
In addition to its effectiveness with asbestos related cancer cells, Neuzil
also claimed that there was evidence to suggest that the compound could also
help with other cancers such as colon, lung, and breast cancers. He hopes to
begin human testing in clinical trials within the next couple of years.
He stated, “It is promising but in the past, many experiments showing
promise in mice have completely failed in humans. Alpha-TOS was "selective"
because it pursued mesothelioma cancer cells but caused only minor damage,
if any, to normal cells in mice.”