With the spate of recent asbestos scares across the UK, it comes as no surprise that the public is up in arms regarding the continued use of this material in public areas. There have been a number of incidents surrounding asbestos scares in Britain, and as our understanding of the diseases this mineral can cause grows, so does our need to instigate stricter measures.
Asbestos comes in three principle forms; brown white and blue asbestos. All three are still being manufactured despite strict measures being put in place to prevent workers being over-exposed.
Predominantly asbestos is mined from countries such as South Africa and Canada. Known for its high heat resistance and its ability to resist chemical and electrical damage, asbestos seemed perfect for insulation and plumbing when first commercialy use in the 19th Century.
However asbestos is now more commonly associated with lung cancer, mesothelioma and asbestosis, as well as the shutting of schools, hospitals and public offices for its inevitable removal.
White asbestos was banned from use in public and work areas for a number of years now under the 1974 Health and Safety at Work Act.
Asbestosis is the scarring of the lungs caused by tiny asbestos fibers being inhaled, which can cause shortness of breath in the short term and has serious medical ramifications in the long-term.
Despite the recent press, the asbestos scare is not a new threat to public health. There have been numerous different campaigns to cut this material from our environments.
In Novemeber of 2009 Edinburgh Council was forced to pay £14, 000 in damages to workers that had been exposed to the dangerous chemical whilst refurbishing the Castlebrae Community High School. On this occasion, the council admitted to breaching health and safety guidelines by not including the asbestos in their risk assessment of anything likely to cause harm to workers.
In Swansea the company Ammanford were reprimanded for what was described as ‘the worst case of asbestos ever seen’ in March of this year. Again the company was fined for their negligence but often these fines are too late or are simply insignificant in comparison to the health risks workers were exposed to.
There are also problems involved in the removal of asbestos, as there must be a replacement source of fire insulation and protection available at the time. Many companies have been fined for the illegal removal of asbestos, such as in Enfield 2009. In this case the two businesses found responsible were handed hefty fines, far exceeding what they would have had to pay to remove the asbestos legally.