What is Asbestos?
In brief, asbestos is the generic name which is given to a grouping of fibrous silicate materials naturally occurring in the environment.
For decades, asbestos was mined and commonly used for various purposes. Asbestos is the only naturally occurring mineral which can be spun and woven into useful fabrics and fibres. This unique combination of tensile strength, flexibility, insulation and chemical inertness is what made asbestos widely popular in the industry from 1800s onward. The asbestos fibres are almost 50 to 200 times finer than a strand of human hair, giving it the ability to float in the air for a longer period of time. This degree of fineness makes it almost invisible and can even be easily breathed into the lungs.
What makes asbestos dangerous?
Asbestos fibres can split up into miniscule sizes, tiny enough to be inhaled into the body and travel deep down – where they can pierce into the lining of the lungs. As the body does not have any system or mechanism to remove unwanted materials from this deep, these asbestos fibres remain lodged in the lungs forever.
Ingestion or inhalation of these fine particles of asbestos leads to the cause of Asbestos related diseases which include asbestosis, lung cancer, cancer of the intestinal tract, pleural plaques and mesothelioma.
About Asbestos in Australia
Asbestos was primarily mined in Queensland, Western Australia and New South Wales. But due to the widespread caused in processing, manufacturing and usage of asbestos, the result is an escalating figure of asbestos related diseases (ARD) in all the states. Asbestos can have a latent period of about 20 to 30 years after exposure and before an ARD can develop.
Because of the looming dangers of asbestos, all asbestos products were slowly removed from production line during the 1980s. By 1983, flat sheeting was phased out and in 1985 corrugated products like roofing and cladding were also removed from production. Production of asbestos-lined piping was stopped in 1987 and production of brake pads and linings containing asbestos ceased in 2003. With that came the end of legal production of products made from Asbestos in Australia.