Since ancient times, asbestos has been a material to which man has often referred to carry out the most varied processes: if the ancient Romans and Persians used it to obtain sheets in which to wrap the corpses to be cremated, in Renaissance age asbestos was used to make drugs and medicines in more recent times – in the last century and up to a few decades ago asbestos has known a particular multiplicity of uses: from the creation of fireproof fabric (for clothing, furniture or packaging) to the heat-insulating and sound-absorbing coating of trains, ships and buses; from the production of brakes and clutches for motor vehicles to frequent applications for building works.
What are the reasons for so much success?
The reasons are to be found in the characteristics of asbestos, which an excellent fire and noise insulator is a ductile material, easy to work with and which can be mixed with other components with equal ease, eternity, for example, is obtained by combining the asbestos with cement. Furthermore a factor not of secondary importance asbestos has a low processing cost. For hazardous waste disposal this is most useful.
But if asbestos appears to be an extremely palatable material, its dangerousness is equally remarkable. Let’s see why.
Some words About Asbestos
Asbestos is a mineral, based on silicon, made up of bundles of long and very thin fibers; the thickness of the single fiber is such that about 335,000 can be placed in one centimeter. The fibers constituting asbestos can be flexible, or rigid and straight (needle); in the first case asbestos is called serpentine, in the second amphibole. Now, the threat inherent in asbestos lies precisely in its fibrous nature: this type of material becomes very dangerous when it falls apart and releases its fibers into the environment; this is where the risk of exposure to asbestos dust in the air arises.
By inhalation, the asbestos fibers dispersed in the air reach the lung interstices and can induce due to the absorbed dose – the onset of tumor pathologies in our body, at the level of the lungs and pleura. Of the two types of asbestos, amphibole, with its needle fibers is undoubtedly the most dangerous: even an occasional exposure to amphibole asbestos is not free from a certain degree of risk.
Problems With the Materials
The materials containing asbestos are in turn classified into friable (i.e. such that they can be crumbled with a simple manual pressure) and compact (in this case, the material can only be crumbled through the use of tools). The products still most widespread today are the asbestos slabs, widely used in the past to make roofing in the building sector. The danger of eternity is associated with the inevitable disintegration of the asbestos contained in it over time, under the action of rain and wind, temperature changes and growth of vegetation.
It is not possible to determine a priori how much asbestos you need to breathe to get sick, nor is it possible to define a safe distance from eternity subject to progressive crumbling: the dust released into the air can cover an area whose extent is strongly influenced by atmospheric agents. It follows that, although eternity – a compact material with a low percentage of asbestos fibers, equal to about 10-15% – has a lower degree of danger than other products containing asbestos, the only solution to eliminate the risk of associated with it is its removal and disposal.