Discovery of the harmfulness of asbestos dust

Discovery of the harmfulness of asbestos dust

At the beginning of the last century first concerns regarding the risk of development of different diseases from asbestos appeared. In the United Kingdom during the inspection of industrial factories the chief inspector reported about possible health damage from asbestos exposure, as a lot of textile workers had similar diagnosis – pulmonary fibrosis. The report is dated 1898. Similar reports appeared in other European countries and Canada. Workers themselves had no idea about what is asbestos exposure and how to protect themselves from harmful consequences.

In the middle of 20th century carcinogenic effect of asbestos was significantly proved, while the first cases of asbestos-related lung cancer were considered two decades earlier, in 1930s. Only in 1976 asbestos got official status of carcinogenic mineral. The connection between mesothelioma and asbestos was defined in 1960s.  A group of asbestos miners from South Africa was analyzed, and many of them got this diagnosis. Over the next 15 years various European, Australian and American researches reported about occupational nature of mesothelioma disease. Reporters paid a lot of attention to analyzing statistics and found real relation between asbestos exposure and development of mesotheliomas of different kind.

The next steps in the development of asbestos research were limitations and regulations regarding its use. The need in improving the safety was obvious as scientists found answer to the question what is asbestos exposure, and its harmful damage to health of workers was properly analyzed. In middle 1970s the usage and sale of asbestos-containing products and pure asbestos got first rules. Framework directive 76/769/EEC contained restrictions regarding the use and sale of 5 of 6 existing types of asbestos. According to this directive only white asbestos or chrysotile stayed allowed for use except some specific products that contained it. In 1983 there was a new directive 83/477/EEC that provided rules and obligations to secure workers from the health risks due to the contact with asbestos at workplace. Among the required measures there were assessing the risk of asbestos exposure, the amount of asbestos fibers in the air, ban for limpet spraying, limitations regarding the allowed dosage of exposure. Also employees must inform workers about potential risks, provide proper medical checks, adopt security measures at workplace.

At that time in Europe factories first began to do various measures to control the situation with asbestos. Since 1980 countries began banning the use of asbestos, even the chrysotile, leaving it only for necessary use (with further replacement). For example, in Denmark asbestos could only be used in cement products.

Since January 1 2005 all countries of EU are prohibited to use asbestos. This doesn’t solve the problems caused by the exposure, as latency period for the most of asbestos related diseases is more than 20 years. However, it protects future generations from the same problems. Moreover, banning asbestos doesn’t mean that none of Europeans is exposed to it. A lot of demolition work and works for removing asbestos-containing materials from buildings are still performed. And workers in these spheres are exposed to this cancerogenic material. Workers in building spheres are also at the high risk, as they often deal with renovating old buildings that are full of sources of asbestos exposure. A lot of other countries of the world still produce asbestos, more than 2 mln tons are mined every year. A worldwide ban of asbestos is not considered for now.

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