Tuesday, 18 June 2013

Why Did We Use Asbestos?

If asbestos were not deadly, it would be an extraordinary product. Many of its properties are beneficial to industry but using it sadly is at cost to human health because we know all kinds of asbestos cause cancer.

There is evidence that asbestos has been used for millennia. By the middle of the twentieth century, asbestos was a part of daily life; present in common products like building materials, car parts and insulation. So, what makes asbestos so useful?

  • Asbestos minerals have a high tensile strength. This means that asbestos fibres are used to reinforce products to make them stronger and more durable over time. 
  • Asbestos fibres come in a variety of lengths. The fibres are separated by length for different uses. Longer fibres are more valuable because they can be woven into textiles. Shorter fibres can be mixed into products like cement.
  •  Asbestos fibres are relatively unreactive. This means they are not as vulnerable to weathering or corrosion as other products. For this reason, products made with asbestos tend to last longer than other products. 
  • Asbestos forms as small fibres so even though it is a kind of naturally occurring rock, asbestos is flexible. This makes asbestos even more versatile. For instance, asbestos can be woven into cloth and even paper.
  • Asbestos does not conduct heat. Because of this characteristic, asbestos is fireproof and also is an effective insulator.

Why is all this significant?

It's estimated that asbestos has been used in upwards of three thousand different applications in manufactured goods. This shows us the vast number of ways people can be exposed to asbestos in the past before the ban, in the present, or even in the future. 

Even after asbestos was banned from being used, asbestos is still present in our homes, workplaces, and surrounding environment because the ban did not require it to be removed from where it was already found. For this reason, many such as the Canadian Cancer Society are calling for the government of Canada to establish a registry for buildings containing asbestos. 

Learn more about an asbestos registry from the Canadian Cancer Society video below:

Barbalace, Roberta C. (2004). Asbestos, its chemical and physical properties. Retrieved June 2013 from http://environmentalchemistry.com/yogi/environmental/asbestosproperties2004.html
United States Department of the Interior. (ND). Asbestos: Geology, Mineralogy, Mining, and Uses. Retrieved June 2013 from http://pubs.usgs.gov/of/2002/of02-149/of02-149.pdf

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