Showing posts with label asbestos and danger of exposure. Show all posts
Showing posts with label asbestos and danger of exposure. Show all posts

Thursday, June 4, 2015

City in Russia Unable to Kick Asbestos Habit

ASBEST, Russia — This city of about 70,000 people on the eastern slopes of the Ural Mountains is a pleasant enough place to live except for one big drawback: when the wind picks up, clouds of carcinogenic dust blow through.
Asbest means asbestos in Russian, and it is everywhere here. Residents describe layers of it collecting on living room floors. Before they take in the laundry from backyard lines, they first shake out the asbestos. “When I work in the garden, I notice asbestos dust on my raspberries,” said Tamara A. Biserova, a retiree. So much dust blows against her windows, she said, that “before I leave in the morning, I have to sweep it out.”
The town is one center of Russia’s asbestos industry, which is stubbornly resistant to shutting asbestos companies and phasing in substitutes for the cancer-causing fireproofing product.
In the United States and most developed economies, asbestos is handled with extraordinary care. Until the 1970s, the fibrous, silicate mineral was used extensively in fireproofing and insulating buildings in America, among other uses, but growing evidence of respiratory ailments due to asbestos exposure led to limits. Laws proscribe its use and its disposal and workers who get near it wear ventilators and protective clothes. The European Union and Japan have also banned asbestos. (A town called Asbestos in Quebec, Canada, has stopped mining asbestos, though it hasn’t changed its name.)
Retirees living in Asbest, including Tamara A. Biserova, center, and Nina A. Zubkova, right.CreditOlga Kravets for The New York Times 
But not here, where every weekday afternoon miners set explosions in a strip mine owned by the Russian mining company Uralasbest. The blasts send huge plumes of asbestos fiber and dust into the air. Asbest is one of the more extreme examples of the environmental costs of modern Russia’s deep reliance on mining.
“Every normal person is trying to get out of here,” Boris Balobanov, a former factory employee, now a taxi driver, explained. “People who value their lives leave. But I was born here and have no place else to go.”
Of the half-dozen people interviewed who worked at the factory or mine, all had a persistent cough, a symptom of exposure to what residents call “the white needles.” Residents also describe strange skin ailments. Doctors interviewed at a dermatology ward say the welts arise from inflammation caused by asbestos.
The International Agency for Research on Cancer, which is a branch of the World Health Organization, is in the midst of a multiyear study of asbestos workers in Asbest. Because of the large number of people exposed in the city, the researchers are using the location to determine whether the asbestos causes ailments other than lung cancer, including ovarian cancer. “All forms of asbestos are carcinogenic to humans,” the group said.
Standing on the rim of the world’s largest open pit asbestos mine provides a panoramic scene. Opened in the late 1800s, it is about half the size of the island of Manhattan and the source of untold tons of asbestos. The pit descends about 1,000 feet down slopes created by terraced access roads. Big mining trucks haul out fibrous, gray, raw asbestos.
The Uralasbest mine is so close by that a few years ago the mayor’s office and the company relocated residents from one outlying area to expand its gaping pit.
So entwined is the life of the town with this pit that many newlyweds pose on a viewing platform on the rim to have their pictures taken. The city has a municipal anthem called “Asbestos, my city and my fate.” In 2002, the City Council adopted a new flag: white lines, symbolizing asbestos fibers, passing through a ring of flame. A billboard put up by Uralasbest in Asbest proclaims “Asbestos is our Future.”
The class-action lawsuits that demolished asbestos companies in the United States are not possible in Russia’s weak judicial system, which favors powerful producers. Russia, which has the world’s largest geological reserves of asbestos, mines about a million tons of asbestos a year and exports about 60 percent of it. Demand is still strong for asbestos in China and India, where it is used in insulation and building materials. The Russian Chrysotile Association, an asbestos industry trade group, reports that annual sales total about 18 billion rubles, or $540 million. And the business is growing, mostly because other countries are getting out of the business.
The mine and the factory Uralasbest owns are the principal employers. The town depends on the jobs that mining asbestos and making asbestos products bring. Nationwide, the industry employs 38,500 Russians directly while about 400,000 people depend on the factories and mines for their livelihood, if supporting businesses in the mining towns are counted. About 17 percent of Asbest residents work in the industry.
Asbest is a legacy of the philosophy known as gigantism in Soviet industrial planning. Many cities wound up with only one, huge factory like this town’s sprawling asbestos plant. The cities, known as monotowns, were an important engine of the economy. A Russian government study counted 467 cities and 332 smaller towns that depend on a single factory or mine. A total of 25 million people out of Russia’s population of 142 million people live in towns with only one main industry that cannot close, even if it is polluting.
In a sign of just how scarce other employment options are in Asbest, a guard requires cars leaving the factory to open their trunks, lest anyone try to steal scrap metal for resale. That is about the only other way to make a meager living in Russia’s old industrial towns.
The trade association says that the type of asbestos mined in Russia, called chrysotile, is less harmful than other types. The United States, though, has tightly restricted its use. The country imports about 1,000 tons of asbestos, mainly from Brazil, for use in aerospace and automotive industries for items like clutch pads. “They consider it dangerous but we consider it safe,” said the association’s spokesman, Vladimir A. Galitsyn. Russia has three research institutes dedicated to studying uses for asbestos.
“As a representative of the industry, I don’t see any problem,” he said. Properly handled, asbestos is safe, he said, and it saves lives in fires. “We are not the enemy of our workers. If they died, then people would be afraid to work for us.”
Valentin K. Zemskov, 82, worked at the mine for 40 years and developed asbestosis, a respiratory illness caused by breathing in asbestos fibers, which scar lung tissue. “There was so much dust you couldn’t see a man standing next to you,” he said of his working years. For the disability, the factory adds 4,500 rubles, or about $135, to his monthly retirement check, which would be enough to cover only a few restaurant meals.
Still, he said the city had no other choice. “If we didn’t have the factory, how would we live?” he said, gasping for air as he talked in the yard of a retirement home. “We need to keep it open so we have jobs.”
A monument to residents who died was made, grimly, of a block of asbestos ore, with the inscription “Live and Remember.”
“Of course asbestos dust covers our city,” said Nina A. Zubkova, another resident of the retirement home. “Why do you think the city is named Asbest?”

Correction: July 18, 2013 
An article on Sunday about Asbest, a Russian city that remains dependent on the mining of asbestos despite the health perils, misstated Russia’s asbestos output in one reference. It is about a million tons a year, as the article noted at one point, not “about 850,000 tons,” the figure used in another reference. (The lower figure was from the Russian trade association’s Web site; the higher one from a more detailed year-by-year breakdown from the United States Geological Survey.)

Saturday, May 30, 2015

Before scraping off a 'cottage cheese' ceiling, get it checked

Asbestos is often found in plaster and other building materials, which pose a risk if damaged or disturbed.

When we were kids, my brothers and I would play a game in which we jumped on our beds to see who could knock off the most plaster from the bedroom ceiling. Like many homes built more than 50 years ago, our home had ceilings of rough plaster, or "cottage cheese."
Today, many homeowners are scraping off this plaster to modernize their homes. It's difficult, messy and fatiguing. It may also be hazardous: In some homes, this plaster contains asbestos, a dangerous material that has been linked to cancer and other ailments.
If asbestos fibers are inhaled into the lungs, they can cause severe scarring and, in some cases, cancer. People exposed to large amounts of asbestos have an increased risk of developing lung cancer and mesothelioma, a rare form of cancer involving the thin membrane that surrounds the lungs and other internal organs. Exposure to asbestos has also been found to cause extensive scarring of the lung tissue, a condition known as asbestosis.
It typically takes prolonged exposure to high levels of asbestos fibers to develop lung cancer, mesothelioma and asbestosis. Although most experts do not believe that prolonged exposure to small amounts -- and even large one-time exposure -- is likely to cause significant health problems, everyone agrees that minimizing exposure is prudent. "No safe level of exposure to asbestos has been established," says Patricia Maravilla, an environmental protection specialist with the Environmental Protection Agency's asbestos program.
Unfortunately, there is no way to escape asbestos completely. Asbestos fibers are released constantly into the air from natural deposits in soil or rock. The fibers are also released from the surface of manufactured asbestos products as they wear down. In rural areas, every cubic meter of outdoor air contains approximately 10 asbestos fibers; in urban areas like Los Angeles, the levels are estimated to be about 10 times higher.
However, it's indoor air that concerns most people. They worry about asbestos in their homes or want to know whether they should have it removed. "Just because you have it [in the home] doesn't necessarily mean that it poses a health risk," says Maravilla. It depends principally on the condition of the asbestos-containing material.
"Cottage cheese" ceilings are only one of many places that asbestos can be found in a home. It also may be contained in a wide variety of building materials, including roofing and siding shingles, floor tiles and insulation.
Although materials that are in good repair will not typically release fibers, they may do so if they are damaged or disturbed. That's why it's generally best not to disturb any material that contains asbestos and that is in good condition. (Be aware that you cannot tell whether a material contains asbestos simply by looking at it. If you are unsure, don't disturb it, or have a sample analyzed for asbestos). Listings of certified asbestos consultants are available at the California Department of Industrial Relations' Web site at, then click on "databases." Known asbestos-containing material should be inspected regularly for signs of damage.
If you discover a problem, call an asbestos professional to handle it. (A listing of registered asbestos contractors can be found on the above Web site.)
In some cases, it may only be necessary to repair damaged areas. A sealant, for example, can sometimes be used to encapsulate the fibers, or an airtight enclosure can be placed over or around them. In other cases, the best course is to remove the material entirely. Keep in mind, however, that disturbing asbestos poses the greatest risk of releasing fibers and may not be a safe course if the job is performed improperly. In fact, improper removal can create a hazard where none existed before.
Steps are being taken to help reduce exposure to asbestos, and asbestos consumption has dropped by 90% in the last 20 years. Recently, an EPA-funded panel recommended a ban on all production, distribution and imports of asbestos, and legislation to ban asbestos was introduced in the U.S. House and Senate last month.
"Cottage cheese" ceilings appear to be facing a similar fate. Just recently, the curds were removed from the ceiling of my childhood home. Before the ceiling could be stripped, however, samples were taken and tested for asbestos. My brothers and I breathed a collective sigh of relief when the report came back negative.
Dr. Valerie Ulene is a board-certified specialist in preventive medicine practicing in Los Angeles. Our Health appears the first Monday of the month.

Thursday, March 5, 2015

How Much Should You Worry About Asbestos in the Home?

Asbestos was a popular material for most of the twentieth century, mainly because of its ability to insulate and act as a fire retardant. In fact, it's still used heavily in some parts of the world, such as India and China. We know enough about the risks now, though, that it's banned outright in more than 50 countries according to and banned for some uses in the US. But how worried should you be if you find it in your home?

Asbestos in the home

asbestos duct tape health safety risk
One of the places you might find asbestos in a home is the duct system. The white tape you see above is of the type that often contains asbestos, although you don't really know without sending a sample to be tested in a lab. If you have an older home with rigid metal ducts, as shown above, it might have the white fabric tape you see in the photo.
The video below, from the 1920s, shows two workers applying a thick insulation material to the boiler and ducts in the home. (Skip to the 6:20 mark to see that part.) That stuff probably had asbestos in it.
Other places you might find asbestos are:
  • Floor tiles
  • Ceiling tiles
  • Vermiculite insulation in attics and walls
  • Roofing and siding
  • Artificial ashes and embers in gas fireplaces
  • Textured paint and patching compounds (banned in 1977)

What health problems does asbestos cause?

The big three diseases listed on all the asbestos websites are:
  • Asbestosis
  • Mesothelioma
  • Lung cancer
All of them result from asbestos fibers getting into the lungs. Asbestos occurs in six mineral types, and all have fibers that are harmful to lung tissue, getting embedded in lung tissue and causing inflammation, scarring, and eventually tumors. The photo below (from the US Geological Survey) shows the fibers of the Chrysotile type, which makes up about 90% of all the commercially available asbestos.
chrysotile asbestos sem image UICCA 500
Asbestosis is an inflammation leading to shortness of breath, coughing, and other breathing problems. Mesothelioma is a cancer of the protective membrane around the lungs. Lung cancer is well known because so many people succumb to it each year, mostly from smoking. (Both of my parents died of lung cancer; both had been smokers.)
The World Health Organization says asbestos exposure leads to these three diseases killing more than 107,000 people worldwide every year. That's a big number. In addition, many more people die of other asbestos-related diseases or suffer various levels of disability.
The problems with asbestos have been known for a long time. The ancient Persians and Romans used the stuff and may have noticed health problems associated with its use. In 1902, asbestos was added to a list of harmful industrial substances in England. Nellie Kershaw, who worked in a factory spinning asbestos fibers into fabric, was the first officially diagnosed case of asbestosis. She died in 1924. (See Discovery of Toxicity section in Wikipedia article on asbestos.)
The consensus in the medical community is that asbestos is dangerous, which is why it's classified as a known human carcinogen. There's no debate on that point, and the lawyers have had a field day litigating asbestos health problems.

Are you at risk?

If you live in a home built before 1980, there's probably some asbestos in it. The stuff was used in a lot of different building materials. But here's the good news for homeowners. The people who get asbestosis, mesothelioma, and asbestos-related lung cancer are almost always people who fall into one of these groups:
  • Asbestos mine, mill, or transportation workers
  • Asbestos product workers (e.g., shipbuilders, construction workers, pipefitters, auto mechanics)
  • Families of asbestos workers (because of fibers brought home on clothes and in hair)
  • People who live near asbestos mines or mills
Another group being watched because of high asbestos exposure are the people involved in the rescue and cleanup efforts in New York City after the 9/11 attacks in 2001. It'll be a while before we know how bad it really was because it generally takes 10 to 40 years for symptoms to appear.
Asbestos in some form is in millions of homes, but I haven't been able to find statistics on the health effects of asbestos exposure in the home. That doesn't mean they aren't there, but the cases of health problems from occupational exposure dominate. The only mention of health problems from exposure in the home that I could find are related to people living with asbestos workers or living near asbestos mines or mills.
That doesn't mean you have nothing to worry about, but I think the National Cancer Institute's view is one to keep in mind:
Everyone is exposed to asbestos at some time during their life. Low levels of asbestos are present in the air, water, and soil. However, most people do not become ill from their exposure. People who become ill from asbestos are usually those who are exposed to it on a regular basis, most often in a job where they work directly with the material or through substantial environmental contact.
In other words, don't panic.

What should you do about asbestos in the home?

If you do find something in your home that you think may contain asbestos, rule number one is:
Don't mess with it!
If you see white tape on your ducts, as shown in the photo above, vermiculite insulation in your attic, as shown below, it's probably not causing a problem as long as it's undisturbed. (Vermiculite insulation, which may contain the Tremolite types of asbestos, is a big enough topic that I'll write a whole article about it later.) Asbestos isn't like radioactivity, which can be a hazard because it constantly emits radiation. Asbestos only becomes a problem if it becomes airborne and gets into your lungs at a high enough dose.
vermiculite attic insulation asbestos risk
If you're concerned about a particular material in your home, you can call an asbestos inspection company to come in and have the material tested. They'll take samples using the approved protocols and send them to a lab for testing. When you get the results back, the company you hired can help you decide what your next steps should be.
As long as you're not planning to make changes to the home that require disturbing it, it might be best just to leave the material alone. If the suspected asbestos-containing material is friable, encapsulating or enclosing the material can help prevent the fibers from getting into the air. But this's not a job to be taken lightly, so you should hire a pro. The US EPA has a good page for homeowners on what to do if you may have asbestos in your home.

A word to the pros

For those who work in the fields of HVAC, insulation, plumbing, home performance, or remodeling and deal with older homes, you're likely to come across many homes with materials that may contain asbestos. You owe it to yourself and your family to take all the proper precautions when working with these materials.
You may not have the exposure that killed Nellie Kershaw after only seven years of spinning asbestos fibers into fabric. You may not even get enough exposure over a career to cause problems. Still, do you want to take that chance? I can tell you from my experience with asthma as a child that having difficulty breathing is no fun at all. And from seeing both of my parents die of lung cancer, I can tell you that's not a nice way to go.
If you spend a lot of time in the attics, basements, and crawl spaces of older homes, don't mess around with materials that may be dangerous. Whether you're an employer or employee, check out the OSHA page on asbestos and be safe.


We humans are a curious and ambitious lot, always striving to understand the world around us and improve our circumstances. If a material exists anywhere near the surface of the Earth, we've found it and exploited it for its useful properties. Like the toddler touching the hot stove, though, we often don't discover the harmful properties until after the damage is done. That is also true of asbestos.
The stuff is out in the world now, and we must deal with it. The key is to use caution and know what you're dealing with.

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Contractor Gets Prison in Asbestos Case

A Glendale man convicted of illegally burying asbestos in Canyon Country was sentenced Tuesday to two years in state prison, which the prosecutor called an unusually stiff sentence for an environmental crime.
"I really have only heard of four or five other cases where we, state prosecutors, obtained a state prison sentence," said Deputy Dist. Atty. Robert Brodney, who has five years experience in his office's environmental crimes division.
Wesley Mitchell Burnett, 33, was found guilty in April of three felony counts of dumping the hazardous waste at a site called Crocker Ranch. San Fernando Superior Court Judge William McLaughlin passed sentence and ordered Burnett, who was free on bail, into custody. He also fined Burnett $21,000.
Burnett owned Cal Coast Construction, a Canyon Country company that handled asbestos removal, primarily at government-owned buildings, Brodney said.
A jury convicted Burnett of transporting and illegally dumping asbestos at the site near Warmuth Road and Rolling Hills Avenue on two occasions in 1986. The waste was buried by employees of his firm, and was not uncovered until soil used to cover about 350 bags of the hazardous material began to erode, Brodney said.

Saturday, January 3, 2015

The Asbestos Scam, Part 2 Asbestos Transportation and Disposal Los Angeles

Six weeks ago, I wrote a column about a ridiculous lawsuit being brought by Carolyn McCarthy, a congresswoman from Long Island. A smoker for most of her life, McCarthy has lung cancer. Yet her lawyers claimed that it was her “exposure” to asbestos, through the work clothes of her father and brother, both boilermakers, that triggered her cancer. Though McCarthy certainly deserves our sympathy as she fights cancer, it is hard to see her lawsuit as anything but an undeserved money grab — and the latest twist in asbestos litigation, the longest running tort in American history, with no end in sight.
Then again, maybe there is finally an end in sight. Late Friday afternoon, Judge George Hodges, a federal bankruptcy judge in North Carolina, wrote a breathtaking decision, in which he essentially pulled the lid off another form of asbestos scam. Though he shrank from labeling the actions of the plaintiffs’ lawyers involved in asbestos litigation as “fraudulent,” he did describe the litigation as “infected with the impropriety of some law firms.” more;

Thursday, October 9, 2014

Asbestos - Tremolite-asbestos, California. Asbestos is a term ......

Chrysotile and amphibole asbestos (such as tremolite) occur naturally in certain geologic settings in California, most commonly in association with ultramafic rocks and along associated faults. Asbestos is a known carcinogen and inhalation of asbestos may result in the development of lung cancer or mesothelioma. The asbestos contents of many manufactured products have been regulated in the U.S. for a number of years. For example, the California Air Resources Board (CARB) has regulated the amount of asbestos in crushed serpentinite used in surfacing applications, such as for gravel on unpaved roads, since 1990. In 1998 new concerns were raised about possible health hazards from activities that disturb rocks and soil containing asbestos and may result in the generation of asbestos laden dust. These concerns recently lead to CARB to revise their asbestos limit for crushed serpentinite and ultramafic rock in surfacing applications from 5 percent to less than 0.25 percent, and to adopt a new rule requiring best practices dust control measures for activities that disturb rock and soil containing naturally occurring asbestos.
tremolite-asbestosAsbestos - Tremolite-asbestos, California. Asbestos is a term used for a group of silicate minerals that occur as asbestiform fibers having high tensile strength, flexibility, and heat and chemical resistance. Tremolite is a hydrous calcium magnesium silicate with the chemical formula Ca2Mg5Si8O22(OH)2 . Tremolite can occur in a variety of crystal shapes and sometimes occurs as asbestiform fibers. Click on image for larger view.  
The California Geological Survey (CGS)  provides information on the geology of asbestos occurrences in California to a number of state, local and federal agencies, private industry, consultants and the public. CGS's recent projects related to asbestos  include the following:.....

Monday, October 14, 2013

Asbestos in the Environment and the Dangers of Exposure

Asbestos in the Environment and the Dangers of Exposure

This week, we have a guest post from Mark Hall.  Mark spreads awareness about mesothelioma and asbestos by researching and writing for The Mesothelioma Center.

The presence of asbestos in the environment endangers the health of any person who may reside, work or spend time in that area if it is disturbed. Asbestos forms naturally as a mineral that can be found in various geographic areas across the country.

Asbestos Found in the Environment

natural asbestos fiber Dozens of eastern, central and Rocky Mountain states are known to have naturally-occurring asbestos. For example, in the central United States 26 natural asbestos occurrences are described through U.S. Geological Survey reports, while eastern states account for nearly 331 natural occurrences.

Of California's 58 counties, 48 of them also have this form of asbestos.   

As the mineral is found in rock-like formation, improper disturbance or natural weathering can cause fibers to be released, leading to dangerous health effects for humans. Common methods of human disruption of naturally-occurring asbestos are through mining or construction activity.
Asbestos is categorized under six different types, including:
  • Amosite asbestos
  • Crocidolite asbestos
  • Tremolite asbestos
  • Anthophyllite asbestos
  • Actinolite asbestos
Health Hazards of Asbestos
The dangers associated with asbestos exposure include the development of one or more respiratory diseases and cancers. Lung cancer is the most notable cancer caused by asbestos, with the mineral accounting for the cause of nearly four percent of all lung cancer cases. Mesothelioma and asbestosis are other diseases closely tied to this form of exposure.

These health effects result when asbestos fibers are inhaled and become lodged within the lining of the lungs or other organs.

Asbestos-related cancers and diseases often take decades from the time of initial exposure for the symptoms to fully manifest and develop.

For example, mesothelioma is known to become evident between 30 to 50 years after someone has been exposed to asbestos. This extended latency period contributes too many of the late diagnoses that are associated with asbestos diseases.

Exposure to asbestos is something that should not be taken lightly. It is recommended to anyone who is exposed to asbestos in the environment that they seek medical attention and get screening for respiratory concerns. Regular screenings will detect the possible development of diseases like lung cancer and mesothelioma earlier while also providing your doctor additional treatment options.

For more information about asbestos and its environmental impact, we encourage you to visit the asbestos website!
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HVAC boot cleared of Asbestos in Los Angeles