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Ever asked yourself the question ‘where does asbestos come from?’ Well, asbestos deposits can be found in rocks and soil all over the world and asbestos has historically been used for over 4,500 years by our ancestors for various purposes. But the large scale asbestos industry started with the mining of asbestos in Quebec, Canada, in the 1870’s.
From the 1880’s onwards, other countries followed suit and started to produce asbestos for industrial purposes as the use of asbestos in industry became widespread, including the USA, Russia, Italy and South Africa.
Today, most countries have banned the production and exportation of asbestos due to it being a serious health hazard, including Canada most recently in January 2019, who for many years operated the world’s largest asbestos mine in Quebec.
So where does asbestos come from today? As it stands today, mining of asbestos is still ongoing in some countries, with the main producers and exporters of asbestos being Russia, Kazakhstan, China and Brazil, with Russia being the top producer out of them all producing a whopping 53% of the world’s total.
Apart from asking yourself ‘where does asbestos come from?’, you may have also wondered what asbestos is made from. Contrary to what some people may believe, asbestos is not a man-made material. Asbestos is actually a group of six types of naturally occurring fibrous minerals that are found in rocks and soil that are collectively known as asbestos.
These minerals are mainly composed of silicon and oxygen, but they also contain other elements. The fibers within these minerals are so tiny that they can’t be seen by the naked eye, and therefore, they can only be seen under a microscope.
All asbestos minerals are made from long and thin fibers, which when disturbed through abrasion or naturally occuring deterioration can easily become airbourne.
The terms ‘asbestos’ actually refers to six different minerals known as chrysotile, amosite, crocidolite, anthophyllite, tremolite and actinolite.
All of these asbestos types belong to either the serpentine or amphibole families of minerals.
Serpentine minerals are made up of a layered type structure and have a curly appearance, with chrysotile asbestos being the only type of asbestos belonging to the serpentine group of minerals.
Chrysotile (white asbestos) has been the most commonly used type of asbestos in industry and can be found in a lot of older common building and fireproofing materials such as plaster, floor tiles, pipe insulation, roofing products, fire doors, ceilings and lots more.
Amphibole minerals have needle like fibers and include amosite (brown asbestos), crocidolite (blue asbestos) and tremolite (creamy white to dark green).
These minerals were also used in the manufacture and production of many common materials such as insulating board (AIB), ceiling tiles, asbestos cement sheets and thermal insulation products.
Other amphibole minerals such as tremolite, actinolite and anthophyllite asbestos are a lot less commonly used in industry, but they can still be found in a variety of construction and insulation materials as well as having been used in various other products.
Tremolite fibers can also sometimes be found as a contaminant in vermiculite, chrysotile and talc.
Approximately 40,200 tons of tremolite asbestos is still mined every year in India.
Exposure to asbestos fibers can cause various illnesses and diseases, and the dangers of asbestos have been recognised for many years.
As such, the production, export and use of asbestos has been banned in many countries across the world including the UK, Australia, South Korea, Japan, New Zealand and Canada. However, it is still legal in the United States and Vietnam.
Researchers and heath professionals have recognised the dangerous effects of asbestos since the early 1900’s, and the first recorded death from asbestos exposure symptoms was in 1906.
A large number of deaths and lung diseases were occuring in mining towns, so studies were conducted in the UK, France and Italy, starting in London in 1900. Traces of asbestos were found in the lungs of a young deceased man who had worked in an asbestos textile factory in the city for 14 years.
Following this discovery, asbestos was eventually listed as a harmful industrial substance in 1902.
In 1924, the first ever diagnosis of asbestosis was made in the case of a female factory worker from Greater Manchester, Nellie Kershaw.
Nellie had worked at the Turner Brothers factory in Rochdale from 1917 and died in 1924. A pathologist who examined her body indicated scarring of the lungs caused by asbestos minerals, and an inquest into her death was then launched which looked into the effects of asbestos dust.
This enquiry and subsequent report which followed led to the first asbestos industry regulations coming into force in 1932, which enforced new rules surrounding ventilation and classed asbestosis as a work related disease.
But despite concern over the effects on health from exposure to asbestos and new regulations being introduced, the use of asbestos in construction and industry remained widespread and continued throughout world war 2 right through to the 1970’s and early 1980’s.
It wasn’t until 1985 that the UK banned crocidolite and amosite asbestos materials, followed by a complete ban on chrysotile (white asbestos) in 1999.
In 2012 the UK Control of asbestos regulations came into effect which introduced the ‘duty to manage’ for owners/managers of all non residential buildings, who must manage asbestos on their premises, having it removed if necessary.
We know that exposure to asbestos poses a serious health risk and can lead to related illnesses and diseases such as asbestosis, lung cancer and mesothelioma. But what are the symptoms to look out for?
One of the first and most common symptoms is shortness or breath, with other common symptoms including wheezing/dry cough, fatigue, loss of appetite and swollen finger tips.
It’s very unlikely that a short duration, one-time exposure to asbestos will cause any symptoms, but for those people who have been exposed to a large amount of asbestos over a long period of time, they may find 10-40 years later that they begin to experience some of the commonly related symptoms as outlined above.
Often, there is a very long incubation period, which is why it can take many years for any symptoms to manifest following long term asbestos exposure.
Those people most at risk of developing an asbestos related disease or illness are those who have worked in construction and related trades, manufacturing, factories, engineering, ship building, old schools and asbestos mines.
If you worked in a high risk job in one of the trades mentioned above and are experiencing any of the related asbestos exposure symptoms, then you are advised to visit your GP as early as possible.
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