Asbestos is a naturally forming silicate mineral in the soil that is composed of tiny fibres. When it gets disturbed, it produces a dust that contains asbestos fibres. Breathing these asbestos fibers may cause a variety of health complications. However, it is only when the asbestos fibers are airborne that they pose a health hazard, otherwise when left untouched, asbestos does not necessarily become a health threat.
A majority of persons who have developed asbestos-related ailments have typically worked in places or jobs where they were constantly exposed to asbestos and ended up breathing in large quantities of asbestos fibres. For instance, construction and farm workers may have in the past been employing unsafe practices.
Among the main disease associated with the exposure to asbestos fibres include :
- Mesothelioma : This is cancer type that affects the human pleura, the lung covering and chest wall lining as well as the diaphragm. It could develop into a serious condition even several decades after being exposed to asbestos fibres.
- Asbestosis : A progressive scar tissue that develops within the lungs impairing breathing.
- Lung cancer : Similar to mesothelioma, it could also develop even several decades consequent to exposure. Persons with asbestosis and smokers are the most susceptible.
- Pleural plaques : These are thickened scar tissue patches on the lung lining.
Governments all over the world are currently implementing various measures to reduce the dangers presented by exposure to asbestos fibres. For example the Department of Health in the State of Western Australia administers the Health (Asbestos) regulations 1992 under the Health Act 1911. These Asbestos Regulations establish the rules for all persons involved in removing and disposing including the sale and re-use of asbestos materials.
Bound Asbestos Vs. Fibrous Asbestos
When in the soils, asbestos poses a huge potential health hazard, particularly when somebody is doing some work with and near those soils. Generally, asbestos soil contamination is found in two forms, fibrous and bound asbestos. The bound type of asbestos is on average low risk because the fibres form part of a bigger block and consequently may not get inhaled. The fibrous asbestos type is the one that is high risk. These are the loose asbestos fibres lying about in the soils and when disturbed they could easily get airborne and inhaled.
Asbestos Contaminated Soils Management
Although the harmful effects of the continued usage of asbestos have been widely documented, there are still products which could still pose a danger as they may contain elements of asbestos. A point of illustration is the US where, despite the majority of asbestos containing products getting proscribed by the Consumer Product Safety Commission and closely monitored by the Environmental Protection Agency, sadly older products in their hundreds are still in place. Additionally, some new products may still be containing asbestos such as soil retention enhancers, especially vermiculite.
- The most recommended method of managing soils that are asbestos contaminated is by simply leaving it completely undisturbed.
- In case the soils have got to be moved, then it is important to keep those soils damp to reduce the likelihood of any fibres becoming airborne.
- During the removal, make sure that the site workers are putting on suitable Personal Protective Equipment (PPE).