The silent killer: 5 facts about asbestos

The silent killer: 5 facts about asbestos

The mere mention of asbestos is enough to send a shiver of concern through most people – and rightly so. Asbestos is still a cause of many work-related deaths and remains a source of misery and ill-health all over the world over. Deaths from asbestosis are exceptionally rare in Ireland but cases of pleural mesothelioma, a cancer of the lung linings caused by inhaling tiny amounts of asbestos fibres, often decades earlier, are on the rise.

However In Ireland, Asbestos-related deaths are expected to hit a record high in the next few years as the legacy of decades of ignorance about the cancer- causing building material hits home.


Here’s 5 facts you need to know about Asbestos

Asbestos has some remarkable properties

Asbestos is the common name for six different naturally occurring silicate minerals. They comprise of long, thin fibrous crystals, and many can be mined and manufactured into an astounding array of construction materials and commercial products.

It can also be added to cement, plastics and other substances and can be extremely resistant to heat, flame, and electrical and chemical damage. It can absorb sound. It also has a high tensile strength and is very flexible and lightweight.

Asbestos is a natural product – and still mined today

Unlike many toxic substances found in the workplace and which are manmade, asbestos is a naturally occurring material. A silicate mineral with long, thin fibrous crystals, asbestos is mined from the earth – a practice which is still carried out in Russia, China, Brazil, Kazakhstan and, up until 2011, in Canada. In 2009, two million tonnes of asbestos were mined worldwide.

The body isn’t equipped to flush out Asbestos

Unlike many toxins, which the human body can cleanse out, asbestos fibers remain in the system once they are inhaled or ingested. Since they are microscopic, the fibers can slip through the lungs’ natural filtration system. Typically, after being inhaled, they then penetrate outwardly through the membrane which covers the lungs and lines the chest cavity, called the mesothelium. The fibers can also be swallowed, in which case they may end up in the peritoneal (stomach) cavity.

Asbestos can cause several different diseases

Asbestos is a carcinogen, and may lead to one or more diseases in those who have inhaled it. The most common asbestos-related condition is pleural plaques, which are small areas of fibrous collagen tissue that usually occur on the parietal pleura. They are not pre-cancerous, but they do indicate asbestos exposure. Prolonged inhalation of Asbestos fibres can cause various serious and fatal illnesses including pneumoconiosis, lung cancer and mesothelioma.

Asbestos is a key concern in residential properties

While new construction regulations require homeowners to appoint a project supervisor for health and safety when carrying out works, which would include checking for asbestos. The residential sector is very hard to monitor and awareness among homeowners needs to be increased.


Ayrton combine specialist qualifications with over 25 years experience having undertaken surveys on projects of all sizes in the asbestos field. The company are members of “Asbestos in Materials Scheme” (AIMS) for the analysis of materials for asbestos fibres and the “Regular Interlaboratory Counting Exchange” (RICE) for airborne fibre counting and analysis. These schemes are required by the HSA “Practical Guidelines on ACM Management and Abatement” for Asbestos Consultancy companies as proof of competency.

For more information on Asbestos related courses here

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