Early in my life I was unaware that natural materials could cause such devastation to the human body. I never knew that diseases such as mesothelioma could happen from people making normal life decisions. I always believed that people got sick from making poor choices, such as not wearing a coat on a rainy day. However, I was introduced to the effects of asbestos when I was in high school. The automotive teacher at the time became seriously ill, partially due to the exposure of asbestos in older brake systems. He was one of the sincerest teachers that I’ve ever met. He was somebody who never heard a dumb question, somebody who was happy to teach and looked forward to each day, and somebody who genuinely enjoyed educating others. In my opinion he rarely made poor choices and was an outstanding person, so I was confused as to why he became sick. It made me realize that there is a need for new materials that are less hazardous to the people around it. People deserve to go and work in a safe environment and be given every chance to prevent exposure to things like asbestos.
According to the World Health Organization, approximately 125 million people are exposed to asbestos in the workplace, and that in 2004, asbestos related lung cancer, mesothelioma and asbestosis from occupational exposures resulted in 107,000 deaths. These deaths could have been prevented by using an alternative source of materials when constructing buildings and other objects created using asbestos. With the education that I am receiving I hope to be part of the development process that creates alternative solutions to the use of asbestos in products and materials, particularly in third world countries. As a mechanical engineer I could apply positive and environmentally friendly problem solving to prevent exposure to asbestos. The United States Geological Survey states that from 1900 to 2003–when the last U.S. asbestos mine was shut down–the United States produced approximately 3.29 million metric tons of asbestos material. This reveals that there is still a large amount of asbestos material that still resides in people’s homes and offices. The future exposure to asbestos may not be entirely avoidable for individuals such as construction crews. Through the development of advanced prevention techniques and alternative solutions, the world will soon see the rapid decline of asbestos related diseases and deaths.
The more knowledge that is available about asbestos, and the dangers of it, increase the chances of public awareness. Even if one person were to know and wear the proper protection when dealing with asbestos, it would make the effort worth it. Asbestos is much more commonly found than just dust in old houses and automotive brake systems. It was an extremely popular material to use and was cheap to manufacture. It is still in many different products and materials that people handle every day. The Agency for Toxic Substance and Disease Registry states that the most at-risk industry for exposure to asbestos are construction workers. An estimated 1.3 million people participate on these worksites and risk exposure. With standards put out by OSHA these workers are relatively safe and well informed about the hazards and how to prevent exposure.
Foreign countries are where the focus of asbestos awareness should be. Asbestos.com highlights the facts that foreign countries use and produce asbestos with no restrictions. China is the world’s largest consumer of asbestos. In 2007 China used 626,000 metric tons of asbestos in daily production of an assortment of different materials. Russia, the world’s leading producer of asbestos, mined more than 1 million tons of asbestos in 2008, and shipped two-thirds of it to developing countries. Expeditions to educate both the government and the workforce in these countries should be initiated. This readily available material is regularly used with no restrictions or safety standards. The European Agency for Safety and Health at Work estimates that, “the annual death toll from Mesothelioma, lung cancer, and other asbestos related diseases in China may reach 15,000 by 2035”. The cost effectiveness of asbestos will mean that countries are unlikely to spring at the idea to an alternative material. However, I believe that more precautionary methods and personal protective equipment will bring exposure rates down by more than 45 percent in high risk environments.
To somebody fighting Mesothelioma or a family member who recently lost a loved one to the disease, I would say this: Do not feel like this is just a bad hand that you were dealt, it is not fair but it is also not in vain. Take confidence in the fact that your pain and suffering has been instrumental in raising change and awareness about the dangers of asbestos. Because of your hardship, future generations of the world are changing in a better way to avoid hazardous exposure.
- Virtra, Robert L. Worldwide Asbestos Supply and Consumption Trends from 1900 through 2003. USGS, 23 Nov. 2016, pubs.usgs.gov/circ/2006/1298/.
- “International Program on Chemical Safety.” World Health Organization, 2018, www.who.int/ipcs/assessment/public_health/asbestos/en/.
- “Asbestos Toxicity Who Is at Risk of Exposure to Asbestos?” Environmental Health and Medicine Education, ATSDR, 9 Aug. 2016, www.atsdr.cdc.gov/csem/csem.asp?csem=29&po=7.
- Persaud, Nadia. “6 Countries to Watch for Asbestos Use and Abuse.” Asbestos.com, Mesothelioma Center, 7 Mar. 2017,
- Morris, Jim, and Te-Ping Chen. “Top Asbestos User China Faces Epidemic of Cancer.”Dangers in the Dust, International Consortium of Investigative Journalists, 21 July 2010, www.icij.org/investigations/dangers-dust/top-asbestos-user-china-faces-epidemic-cancer/.