In the small town of Libby, Montana, USA. The vermiculite mine produced ore contaminated with Asbestos for decades, which was then shipped across the country for use in insulation materials, roofing materials and other products. As a result of this exposure to asbestos, many residents of Libby developed serious health problems, including lung cancer, mesothelioma & asbestosis.
The pollution was so widespread that even family members of miners who had never set foot in the mine were affected as workers brought home asbestos fibers on their clothes.
The health crisis in Libby went largely unnoticed for many years, as the mining company downplayed the risks and local officials failed to take action. The full scale of the issue was only revealed in the nineties, and efforts to decontaminate and provide medical assistance to the affected population continue to this day!
Libby’s story serves as a stark reminder of the dangers of asbestos and the need for vigilance in protecting public health from hazardous substances. Asbestos or asbestos also known as amiant, asbestos or wick stone is a group of fibrous minerals found in nature that have been commonly used in a variety of industrial and commercial applications due to their heat-resistant and insulating properties.
Asbestos has been used for centuries due to its heat-resistant properties and strength. It consists of long, thin fibrous crystals that can be separated into a soft, elastic wool-like material. Asbestos is resistant to heat, fire and chemicals, making it useful in a variety of industrial and commercial applications.
Asbestos was widely used in building materials, such as insulation, roofing, cement, as well as in automotive parts, textiles and in shipbuilding, water pipes and other products. However, exposure to asbestos fibers has been discovered to cause serious health problems, including lung cancer, mesothelioma, and asbestosis.
Diseases caused by asbestos
Asbestos exposure can cause many diseases, many of which are dangerous and potentially life-threatening. Here are some of the diseases that asbestos exposure can cause:
Mesothelioma: is a rare and severe form of cancer associated almost exclusively with asbestos exposure. It affects the lining of the lungs, chest, abdomen or heart, and can take decades to develop after exposure to asbestos. Lung Cancer : Exposure to asbestos can increase the risk of lung cancer, particularly in smokers.
Asbestosis: A chronic lung disease that occurs when asbestos fibers are inhaled and causes scarring of lung tissue. It can lead to breathing difficulties, chest pain and persistent cough.
Pleural plaques: These are areas of thick and hardened tissue that can develop on the lining of the lungs after exposure to asbestos. Although it is not cancerous, it can cause breathing difficulties and chest pain.
Pleural effusion: It is the accumulation of fluid between the layers of tissue surrounding the lungs. It can be a symptom of asbestos-related diseases, including mesothelioma. These diseases may take years or even decades after exposure to asbestos to begin to appear. In addition, the severity of diseases can vary depending on the level and duration of exposure to asbestos, as well as other factors such as smoking history and general health.
? How does asbestos exposure occur
When asbestos-containing materials are disturbed, such as during mining, construction or demolition activities, microfibers can be littered with air and inhaled into the lungs. Over time the fibers are very small and can remain in the lungs for years, causing them to deteriorate over time.
Asbestos exposure can also occur due to indirect exposure, meaning individuals inhaling asbestos fibers during handling the clothing or equipment of someone who has been directly exposed to it. It can take years or even decades for symptoms to appear, meaning that people who were exposed to asbestos several years ago may now only experience symptoms.
Despite the well-documented health risks associated with asbestos, it is still used in some parts of the world. In some cases, this is due to a lack of awareness about the dangers of exposure to asbestos. In other cases, this is due to the fact that asbestos is a cheap and readily available material.
All of the above has led many countries to take steps to ban or restrict the use of asbestos, but there is more that needs to be done to protect people from exposure to it, especially since it may be present in many facilities that have been built in the past, making it a source of danger during maintenance or demolition of old buildings.