Asbestos is a substance belonging to the fiber category. They are elongated bodies in which length prevails over diameter and width. We have two distinct types of fibers, natural ones, that is, those found in nature (asbestos, zeolites, sepiolites) and artificial ones (slag wool, rock wool, ceramic fibres), which are mineral fibres, produced by man through technological processes, and which today have almost completely replaced it.
Why is it Dangerous?
Another name by which theasbestos And asbestos; inhaling its fibers causesasbestosisa disease that causes fibrosis of the lung, making it less extensible and elastic especially during inspiration, but also during exhalation.
Asbestos not only causes asbestosis, but also other pathologies, some very serious.
Its manipulation determines the release of the fibers, which can disperse into the air and – once they come into contact with humans – penetrate and progress along the airways.
Asbestos, therefore, given the size of its fibres, is a substance that is easy to inhale. These fibers are also bioresistant, that is, they require a long time before being destroyed by the organism with which they come into contact, and therefore can cause damage.
Asbestos was widely used, especially years ago, because it is fire resistant, is an excellent sound absorber, and is also a dielectric. Its properties of resistance to acids, microorganisms and wear, its flexibility and the possibility of being “woven” into very ductile structures, make it widely used on an industrial level. For example, we can find it in railway carriages, ships, in asbestos cement and in the textile industry.
Types of asbestos
There are different types of asbestos, which cause different types of pathologies. Its fibers can be divided into two large groups for simplicity:
• Serpentine group: is represented by chrysotile (white or gray asbestos), and is much more used than other types of asbestos. In fact, it corresponds to approximately 93% of world production, and this is a good thing because it is less harmful than the second group. It is produced mainly in South Africa, the Russian Federation, Canada, Yugoslavia, Europe (Corsica and, more than half, in Italy alone, especially near Turin).
• Amphibole group:
Crocidolite or blue asbestos = iron silicate. The most dangerous of all. It is of Australian origin, and was used in England for the construction of gas masks for military use.
Amosite or brown asbestos = silicate of iron and magnesium. Extremely dangerous, but less than crocidolite. It was found in shipbuilding workers in the USA and Canada.
Anthophyllite = magnesium silicate
Tremolite = magnesium and calcium silicate. Used in Türkiye as a material for building houses.
Actinolite = silicate of calcium, magnesium and iron.
There has been extensive legislation on asbestos for many years. Since 1992, a very strict law has been in force which, throughout the national territory, prohibits the extraction, import and export, marketing and production of asbestos or products containing it. Exposure to this substance is today limited only to workers employed in the activities of removing it from still contaminated places, and in remediation. For these activities, precise worker protection rules are envisaged, particularly regarding information, the use of personal protective equipment and limited access to work areas. The means of personal protection from asbestos include clothing (self-contained breathing apparatus, hood, gloves, overshoes), double filter masks (for ultrafine dust) and disposable masks for asbestos dust.
However, even if the 1992 law prohibits its use, today it still makes sense to talk about asbestos-related pathologies, both because there are still exposed subjects, who are the same people responsible for removal and reclamation (even if in reality it is possible , by adopting the appropriate precautions, obtain the elimination of the risk during these maneuvers) but above all, a real medical problem is given by the considerable latency period between the exposure and the appearance of the pathology (which occurs in the ex-exposed). For example, knowing that asbestos lung cancer has a latency period of around 20-25 years and that of the pleura (mesothelioma) of around 30, assuming that a person started working in places at risk in the 1980s, one they will be able to see asbestos-related diseases until 2010-2015.