Formerly called asbestos, asbestos is a material that is often used in construction thanks to its insulation and resistance qualities. It is highly toxic to health after inhalation. Having been widely used in Quebec until it was banned in the 1990s, asbestos is responsible for several cases of cancer and respiratory infections.
An overview of the effects of asbestos on health.
Asbestos risk factors
When asbestos fibers are present in the air, it poses a health risk to everyone who will be exposed to them. It must be said that materials containing asbestos become dangerous in the following cases:
- when they are in poor condition;
- when they are friable, i.e. they can be crumbled or reduced to powder;
- when handled during work.
In addition, a person’s risk of developing health problems from exposure depends on a number of factors:
- the amount and time of exposure;
- the time elapsed since exposure;
- the age at which the exposure took place;
- the tobacco history of the exposed person;
- the size and type of asbestos fibers.
What are the health risks of asbestos?
In the majority of cases, asbestos fibers enter the body via the respiratory tract. They then settle on the endothelial cells at the bottom of the pulmonary alveoli. Thus, an individual who breathes air that contains asbestos fibers is likely to contract non-cancerous diseases of the pleura.
These include fibrosis of the parietal pleura, pleurisy or fibrosis of the visceral pleura. He can also be affected by asbestosis which turns out to be fibrosis of the lungs. Au nombre des cancers qui découlent de l’exposition à l’amiante, nous pouvons citer :
- Asbestosis: this is pulmonary fibrosis due to the accumulation of asbestos fibers in the alveoli of the lungs. The alveolar walls thicken which prevents the lung from passing oxygen into the blood and leads to an overload in the heart. Shortness of breath and cough are the first symptoms of this slowly progressing disease. It appears 15 to 20 years after exposure to asbestos fibers;
- Lung cancer: This is cancer of the bronchi and lungs and does not present any specificity compared to a cancer having another origin. The combined effects of asbestos and cigarette smoke increase the risk of cancer;
- Mesothelioma: It is a malignant tumor that attacks either the lung (pleura) or the envelope of the abdomen (peritoneum). This cancer appears after thirty to forty years after the first contact with this material. Shortness of breath, chest pain, persistent cough and shoulder blade or lower back pain are the first signs of this type of cancer.
People at risk
Since 1997, the risks of inhaling asbestos fibers have affected people working in the following sectors much more:
- the removal of asbestos present in natural mineral deposits;
- processing of asbestos ores (grinding);
- the manufacture of products containing asbestos;
- moving materials that contain asbestos during renovation or demolition work;
- the mechanical sector (repair of the brakes and the clutch pedal of a vehicle);
- the refurbishment or demolition of boats built with materials containing asbestos;
- workers and trades responsible for insulation and heating systems;
- sheet metal workers, plumbers and pipefitters;
- workers responsible for the disposal of asbestos waste;
- workers in the cement industry;
- people who maintain buildings.
If you are planning to do renovations, there are certain measures that you can adopt in order to protect yourself from the negative consequences of asbestos on your health. Depending on the level of risk, the work is classified into three categories.
Low risk work
For personal protection, safety shoes with non-slip soles on wet ground, a safety helmet and recommended gloves and protective glasses should be worn. Regarding collective protection, it will be necessary to check whether there is the presence of asbestos by an air test and identify the types.
After that, it is necessary to establish the preventive measures and the working methods to be applied. During the work, prevent the scattering of debris and clean the work area and its surroundings at the end of the work.
Moderate risk work
In addition to the means of protection used in the context of low-risk work, disposable or reusable protective clothing and a reusable cartridge half-mask must be worn. The latter is equipped with a high efficiency filter.
In terms of collective protection, it is important to carry out asbestos decontamination of all friable ACMs with a vacuum cleaner, then isolate the workplace. Finally, the ventilation system must be protected to prevent the entire building from being contaminated.
High risk work
For work where the volume of debris is greater than 10 cubic feet, it is recommended to wear disposable or reusable protective clothing and a full face mask with a powered ventilation equipped with a high efficiency filter. At the end of the work, carry out an asbestos decontamination.