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( Article Type: Explanation )

Asbestos is the fibrous form of several silicate minerals. Its physical characteristics of being a good insulator, fire resistant and chemically inert have made it invaluable to many areas of commerce and industry. It is used for building and construction purposes (roofing, fencing, wall panels) and as insulation lagging. However, asbestos proves a serious health threat. The danger comes from the fine fibres breaking loose and being inhaled into the lungs. Prolonged exposure to these forms of asbestos causes mesothelioma (a cancer of the lung and abdominal lining) or asbestosis (a chronic lung condition that eventually makes breathing almost impossible). The most dangerous forms of asbestos are crocidolite or blue asbestos and amosite or brown asbestos.

The dangers posed by using asbestos lagging have meant that most companies have begun programmes to replace the lagging with safer forms of insulation. In many instances, there are alternative materials, which are not more expensive and have the same properties as asbestos. Most companies using asbestos in building materials use chrysolite or white asbestos, which is encapsulated in the cement matrix and is safe, if managed with care. Asbestos is very dangerous if full and complete precautions are not taken to protect workers and the environment. It can take between 15 and 30 years after exposure for the asbestos fibres to cause mesothelioma or asbestosis. There are currently a number of court cases going on around the world, in which asbestos processing companies are being sued for damages by their ex-employees and surrounding communities for not protecting employees and communities from asbestos exposure.

Associated Topics:

Polluter Pays Principle , Pollution