The 1940s brought about a change in the way builders insulated schools and homes. Asbestos was a widely accepted means of insulation, because it was affordable, easy to handle and fire retardant. After years of research, scientists have discovered just how dangerous asbestos can be when inhaled, especially in large quantities. Now, when people think of asbestos, they usually think of the harmful effects that it can cause to the lungs and respiratory system. Scientists and doctors now know that asbestos fibers and dust can be inhaled, where they lodge in the mesothelium, the lining surrounding vital internal organs. This is the only know cause of the deadly cancer known as mesothelioma. What people might not realize is that asbestos is not only harmful to the human body, but to the environment as well. While asbestos was banned in the 1970s, older buildings which have not been renovated may still contain asbestos.
Effects of Asbestos on the Environment
Asbestos is usually disposed of in landfills after secure placement in plastic bags. Landfills are used for disposal because there is a reduced atmospheric risk of wind picking up the asbestos and spreading the fibers. Landfills can be considered hazardous to the environment because they pollute the ground and increase the chances of contaminating groundwater. Landfills have been known to release greenhouse gases, which can be a danger to people living near the waste lands. The dumping of asbestos into landfills can contribute to the hazardous effects of landfills.
Today, we find asbestos in products we commonly use, such as brake pads, flooring felt, pipeline wrap, and commercial, corrugate and specialty papers. When these products begin to break down in landfills, asbestos can enter and contaminate the air and the water. If asbestos is released into the air, the small fibers can remain there for a long time. Larger pieces are heavier and will fall to the ground more quickly. The release of asbestos into the air poses potential issues to residents of the areas because the inhalation of asbestos is what causes different types of respiratory issues like mesothelioma. Because asbestos fibers cannot move through soil and dirt, they will not be broken down to other compounds that are found in the environment. This means asbestos stays in the environment for a long time.
Asbestos Found Naturally in the Environment
Widespread use of asbestos over many years, despite a ban on asbestos use in the building industry, continues to harm the environment. Asbestos is a naturally occurring mineral, usually found in underground rock. More often than not, the contaminated rocks are too far underground to pose a hazard. These underground rocks cannot be easily disturbed, therefore they typically do not release the hazardous fibers.
Some areas of the world have asbestos-bearing rocks so close to the surface that human activity, such as construction work, can disturb the asbestos particles. Places in the United States that have asbestos rocks include parts of California, Virginia, and New Jersey. Other parts of the world, such as Turkey and Corsica, also have rocks that contain asbestos. Australia is particularly rich in asbestos, and it is here we see the highest incidence of mesothelioma cases
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