Global Asbestos Awareness Week
Global Asbestos Awareness Week is recognised every year from the 1st – 7th April and aims to raise awareness of the risks and danger of asbestos.
Asbestos is a naturally occurring mineral with first documented uses dating back to 4000 B.C. when it was used to make wicks for candles and lamps. Due to its heat resistance and strength making it a great insulation material, its commercial use began in the UK in the late 1800s with production booming during WWII. World demand for asbestos reached its pinnacle in 1977 and decline began in 1979 as the severity of health implications was being realised.
Although the severe effects on human health are well known, asbestos is still legal in around 70% of countries with Russia, China, and India being among the world’s largest producers and consumers. Even in the 67 countries where it has been banned, the controls and effectiveness vary significantly. The construction, ship building, and automotive industries are among those that continue to use asbestos.
Despite the UK’s complete ban in 1999, the removal of asbestos already used in buildings was not enforced. Due to it being so heavily used by our construction industry in the 20th century, around 1.5 million buildings still contain asbestos, including around 75% of schools. Unfortunately, this means present and future generations are also at risk of exposure and the potential health implications and illnesses associated with it. Asbestos exposure throughout the 1900s led to a huge influx of asbestos related disease and the fact that the effects are widely known but continue to be experienced to this day is testament to its long-lasting consequences.
The TUC (Trades Union Congress) and other groups have been campaigning for a new law on asbestos to provide a timeline for its complete removal from the UK. Until this happens, there will still be a risk to current and future generations.
What are the dangers of asbestos
Asbestos is incredibly harmful to human health. If it remains in an undisturbed condition, then it won’t cause any harm. It only becomes unsafe when it is disturbed i.e. , cut or sawn, which is a higher risk in places like schools as children can be playful and boisterous and often in groups. Children themselves are also at higher risk as their lungs and respiratory systems are smaller and still developing so the inhalation of asbestos fibres is capable of more severe damage. Most people who work or study in these schools will not be aware of the presence and danger of asbestos which is highly likely if the school was built before 2000. Additionally, the maintenance of schools is difficult and costly making them problematic to manage and a place of higher risk.
It is a carcinogenic substance and one which the body’s immune system cannot overcome. When asbestos fibres are disturbed and consequently released into the air, they can be inhaled and get lodged in the lungs or pleura. Asbestos can cause acute, malignant, or benign, chronic conditions and it can be decades before symptoms start presenting themselves.
Asbestos related diseases include:
- Asbestos related lung cancer
- Diffuse pleural thickening
Around 5000 people die every year in the UK from diseases caused by asbestos and the long latency period means that there are many people today who unknowingly will suffer in the future. There currently is poor prognosis, particularly with cancers, and no cure and most forms of treatment focus on pain relief and longevity of life.
Asbestos has been the highest cause of occupational ill-health since 1950 and continues to be the highest work-related cause of death. According to a 2017 study, over 230,000 people die from asbestos related diseases every year and annually, around 125 million people are exposed. There is an under-recognition and severe underestimation of how much is present around us in our everyday lives and the danger it may cause in the future.
Global Asbestos Awareness Week is an opportunity to remind people of the continued use and danger of asbestos worldwide. Our Environmental division work in the asbestos sector so if you’re looking for work or to hire someone then get in touch!