Asbestos Under Microscope: What We Know and What We Don’t

Asbestos Under Microscope : Asbestos fibers were commonly used in building and construction up until the 1970s. When inhaled or ingested, these fibers can cause lung cancer and mesothelioma in people who are exposed to it regularly over long periods of time (source). According to information released by the World Health Organization, asbestos-related diseases kill more than 100,000 people annually around the world (source). Asbestos has been banned in many countries and there has been legislation in place to limit its usage in buildings and public spaces, although there are still people whose jobs put them at risk of inhaling or ingesting airborne asbestos on a regular basis.

The hazardous properties of asbestos
Asbestos was once used as a building material in homes, schools, and other public buildings. It is a natural mineral that can be found in the ground in many parts of the world. In the United States it has been mined from 1879-1985. Asbestos fibers are strong, flexible, resist fire, heat, electricity, acid and solvents. They have proven to be one of the best materials for insulating boilers, pipes and ships. Unfortunately, asbestos poses a major health risk if not handled properly and worn protective equipment. When airborne or inhaled into the lungs it can cause scarring which eventually leads to lung cancer or mesothelioma.

How to identify if there is asbestos present in your home
There are a few ways to check your home for asbestos. One, you can call in an inspector who will take samples of the material to examine under a microscope, or you can do it yourself. You can buy a kit that contains chemicals that react with asbestos fibers. If there is asbestos present, the chemical turns red. You then scrape off some of the dust on the floor or surface where you found the reaction, put it into a jar, and look at it through a microscope. There is also a more high-tech way to find out if there is asbestos present – x-ray fluorescence (XRF) spectroscopy. It uses X-rays instead of light waves to identify minerals such as quartz, feldspar, calcite and asbestos from small samples without having to break open larger pieces.

How to test for the presence of asbestos in your home
Many of us have heard about the dangers of asbestos in our homes, but many of us don’t know how to test for it. This can be a difficult process, but there are some steps you can take.
1) If you suspect that there is asbestos in your home, the first thing to do is call a professional who will come out and test your home. Not all professionals have the same qualifications or experience, so make sure you do your research before hiring someone!

Health concerns about exposure to asbestos
Exposure to asbestos is linked to the development of lung cancer, mesothelioma, asbestosis, and other cancers. Exposure to asbestos also contributes to pleural thickening, which can cause problems with breathing. Additionally, we do not know exactly how much exposure it takes for someone to develop an asbestos-related disease. When does a person have enough exposure that we can start thinking about giving them a diagnosis? There are no clear answers for these questions.

Pending legislation
The EPA has passed a new law that will require construction companies to test for asbestos in older buildings. This is not the first time asbestos was used in building materials. It’s been common knowledge that it was used in insulation, flooring, ceiling tiles, etc., but it wasn’t until the 70s that people started finding out about the dangers of using it. There are many cases of people getting sick from exposure to asbestos because they didn’t know about its dangers.

Although we have learned a lot about asbestos in the past 50 years, there is still much to be learned. This lack of knowledge has made it difficult for researchers to find solutions to problems caused by asbestos exposure. Ongoing research will hopefully lead to answers and help us better understand the dangers of asbestos and how best to protect our population from its adverse effects.

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