Asbestos: The Miracle Mineral Of Our Worst Nightmares

For much of the 19th and 20th century, the mining and use of asbestos saw near-constant growth, with virtually every material used in the construction of homes, offices, ships, road networks and industries featuring this miraculous mineral in some fashion. Some of these materials would contain only a few percent asbestos mineral as a binder, while others would be mostly or entirely composed out of asbestos.

What had begun as mostly a curiosity thousands of years prior was now turning into the material that was helping propel humanity into an era of hitherto unknown levels of prosperity and technological progress. It seemed as if the addition of even just a bit of asbestos would make houses weather- and fireproof, make concrete and asphalt nearly indestructible and add just that little bit of zing to tiling and interior decorations, as well as rigidity to the predecessor to today’s plastics: bakelite.

Damaged asbestos roof. (Credit: Harald Weber)
Damaged asbestos roof” by Harald Weber

Being a fibrous material, asbestos would also be used everywhere for insulation purposes, as well as around boilers, steam pipes and everywhere else where the heat-retaining yet thermally stable properties were very useful. Yet we all know how this story went: by the 1970s it was clear that humanity had mostly unwittingly walked into a nightmare, where every house, every surface and basement was a potential death trap.

With a war in Ukraine razing entire cities to the ground, and Europe seeking to revitalize its asbestos-filled post-war housing stock in the face of an energy crisis, this risk is more real now than ever before. So how did we get here, and what can we do about it?

A Historical Curiosity

Early uses of asbestos have been found in the form of asbestos-ceramics. These are essentially pottery that mix clay and asbestos mineral in varying degrees. The high-asbestos (90%) products made this way would have been highly heat-resistant, which along with the other forms show evidence of having been used with metal work. Potentially this heat-resistant property would have been extremely useful during the iron and bronze ages.

In addition, the fibrous strands made it possible to make asbestos ware that was much lighter and stronger than comparable pure clay pottery. Later in history, the ancient Greek would call asbestos ‘amiantos’, which is also retained in modern Greek, French and other Latin languages. Because of an error made by the Roman naturalist Pliny the Elder in his Natural History manuscript, Germanic languages and English would end up with the Greek word for ‘lime’ (ἀσβεστος, i.e. asbestos), which refers to something entirely different.

With most of the usage of asbestos during this period limited to integration in ceramics and similar that limited exposure to the invisible asbestos fibers, it wasn’t until the 19th century with industrial-scale mining and usage of the mineral that its adverse effects would become undeniable. This despite reports during Roman times on some observed ill effects of handling asbestos by both Strabo and Pliny the Younger. Back then and in the 19th century the most obvious signs were generally found among workers who dealt with asbestos directly. Inspectors as early as 1898 noted the signs of asbestos-related diseases, yet no concerted action would be undertaken until the 1970s.

Widescale bans on the general usage of asbestos containing materials (ACM) and asbestos by itself would not be put in place until the 1990s and 2000s, with currently over sixty countries having done so. In many countries – including Russia, China and Kazakhstan – asbestos is still mined, exported to a large number of countries and used in a variety of materials. This includes construction material like asbestos cement (AC), which are still a common sight on buildings and sheds in the West as well.

Despite the clear dangers, even Canada – as one of the formerly largest asbestos exporters – has a ban in place only since 2018, and the US still only has a partial ban on asbestos. For example, only Washington state has made asbestos brake pads illegal, despite the known risks (1986 EPA video). This highlights the patchwork global approach to asbestos and the struggle to get it banned.

Just A Needle-Prick

Considering that asbestos is a mineral that was assumed to be biochemically inert (Kuroda et al., 2008), what harm can it do to the human body? If we look at the asbestos mineral itself, we can see that it is a silicate mineral, with the main groups which we refer to as ‘asbestos’ found in the amphiboles as:

  • anthopyllite
  • riebeckite (“blue asbestos”, or “crocidolite”)
  • crummingtonite/grunerite (“brown asbestos”, or “amosite”)
  • actinolite/tremolite

Asbestos size comparison with other particles. (Source EPA)Within the serpentine subgroup we find chrysotile, which is commonly known as “white asbestos”. A characteristic of the serpentine asbestos is that it has a more curled shape to the fibers, whereas those in the amphiboles look more like jagged spikes. Of these asbestos minerals, chrysotile is most commonly used, followed by the so-called ‘blue’ and ‘brown’ amphiboles.

Despite their differences in outwards appearance, what they have in common is their effect on the body. Thanks to their small size and needle-like shape, the fibers can not merely enter the body via the airways, but will also readily remain stuck deep inside the lungs.

The below PSA video by the Workers’ Compensation Board of British Columbia (WorkSafeBC) visualizes the basic process of asbestos fiber inhalation:

Macrophages try to get rid of the fibers and ultimately fail to do so, which results in pulmonary fibrosis as part of a condition called asbestosis. Aside from symptoms such as shortness of breath due to the formation of scar tissue in the lungs, the increased stiffness and decreased diameter of blood vessels in the lungs means increased pressure to overcome for the heart’s right ventricle, leading to pulmonary hypertension. This often leads to heart failure.

Electron micrograph of asbestos. Amosite, obtained from the Japan Association for Working Environment Measurement (Tokyo, Japan), observed by field emission scanning electron microscopy. (Source: Akio Kuroda, 2021)
Electron micrograph of asbestos. Amosite, obtained from the Japan Association for Working Environment Measurement (Tokyo, Japan), observed by field emission scanning electron microscopy. (Source: Akio Kuroda, 2021)

In addition to the increased risk of lung cancer due to the localized inflammatory damage, asbestos fibers can also penetrate the lungs and reach the mesothelium, which is the tissue lining the chest wall and outside of the lungs and other organs. This is the most common cause (over 80%) of mesothelioma, which is a highly aggressive form of cancer with exceedingly poor 5-year survival prospects, even with treatment.

Because of the high correlation between mesothelioma and asbestos exposure, this type of cancer is used to gauge the full health impact of decades of asbestos exposure, as detailed in a recent paper by Furuya et al. (2018) in Environmental Research and Public Health.

An interestingly frightening aspect of asbestos fibers is that they do not necessarily need to be inhaled to cause ill effects. Despite the WHO’s drinking water guidelines not counting asbestos as a carcinogen when ingested, recent studies (Ciaula et al. (2016), Totaro et al. (2019)) provide evidence of mesothelioma cases being correlated with high levels of asbestos in the drinking water of Tuscany, Italy at 700,000 fibers/liter.

This is corroborated by Kjaerheim et al. (2005) who provided evidence of increased GI tract cancers among lighthouse keepers who drank water from asbestos cement water pipes. Since such asbestos cement water pipes are in use today in most nations with a 50 year – 70 year service life, this would seem to be a pertinent concern. What makes this issue so particularly hard to pin down is that the consequences of asbestos exposure can take decades to become apparent, such as with mesothelioma.

Staying Alive

Since asbestos containing materials are essentially everywhere, and asbestos can be literally scooped off the ground in some regions (e.g. Metsovo, Greece), what can we do about it? For the ACMs at least, we have as guideline that any building material from before an asbestos ban went in place likely contains asbestos. There are also many image galleries that give helpful guidance as to what to look for, such as at the UK Health and Safety Executive gallery, and their accompanying asbestos survey guide with a detailed overview of the many types of ACMs.

In brief, these ACMs include:

  • Asbestos insulation.
  • Sprayed asbestos coatings.
  • Thermal insulation (around e.g. boilers).
  • Asbestos Insulating Board (AIB).
  • Asbestos papers, felts and cardboard.
  • Asbestos textiles.
  • Asbestos gaskets, washers and strings.
  • Asbestos cement sheets and tiles.
  • Molded asbestos cement products (pipes, tanks, gutters, etc.).
  • Textured coatings (e.g. Artex & popcorn ceilings).
  • Bitumen (roofing and acoustic dampening) products.
  • PVC (vinyl) floor tiles
  • Asbestos-reinforced plastic, resin and friction (brake) products.
  • Metal-asbestos composites (e.g. wood-burning stove flue).
  • Wall jointing tapes and fillers.

Even such innocuous materials as drywall (plasterboard) are likely to contain asbestos in addition to the gypsum, and both bricks and mortar are likely to contain asbestos. Over the past decades, glass wool and mineral wool have taken the place of asbestos for most insulation and fiber-reinforcement applications, along with fiberglass fabric products like Zetex. To the naked eye, however, it is hard to impossible to positively distinguish ACMs from asbestos-free materials. To this day, the only reliable way to identify ACMs is to take samples and put each one under an electron microscope to see what the fibers in the sample look like.

Heating Up

During the process of asbestos abatement, ACM is carefully removed, using negative air pressure zones, water or similar to prevent dust, PPE (full-face respirators and protective clothing) and HEPA filters as needed to prevent the release of fibers into the environment or endanger the workers. The exact scope of the ACM removal will depend on the preceding survey results, with materials that are at risk of releasing fibers at the top of the disposal list, while ACMs that are fully contained in the material (like resins) generally left in place unless the goal is full demolition of a structure.

While most of this ACM waste is generally deposited in special landfills that aim to contain leaking of asbestos into the surrounding environment, there’s the possibility of neutralizing the asbestos fibers through thermal treatment at 1000 °C – 1250 °C (Gualtieri et al. (2000)), or microwave thermal treatment (Leonelli et al., 2005), though neither approach seems to have found much traction so far. Only one company in the UK (Thermal Recycling) seems to be an active player in this market.

It’s conceivable that the sheer amount of ACM to be disposed of would make thermal disposal impractical, but this is something nations will have to consider as the need to dispose of increasing amounts of such waste keeps building. For nations like Ukraine that are faced with countless Soviet-era buildings pulverized through the violence of war, identification and safe disposal of any ACM is a very daunting task, made worse through the urgent need to rebuild people’s homes.

In other nations that have phased out new construction with asbestos, but are dealing with standing houses filled literally up to the attic with asbestos, there is every risk of asbestos exposure in the process of upgrading heating systems, installing PV solar panels replacing windows and adding insulation. What is astoundingly clear is that this is not a health risk that will go away by itself, even if the cost of exposure today will not become clear until a few decades from now.

Featured image: “asbestos bagged twice” by NAVFAC.  Thumbnail image: “Anthophyllite Asbestos Scanning Electron Microscopy (SEM)” by USGS.

98 thoughts on “Asbestos: The Miracle Mineral Of Our Worst Nightmares

  1. When I was young people used to be able to buy it by the foot at almost any hardware store, my Dad kept a roll of it in the utility room. The houses in Oak Ridge, TN used to be made with at least some asbestos including the heating ductwork in houses with central heat.

    1. The shingles are purportedly less menacing than other forms if you don’t break them up. When I disposed of my house shingles I followed the then-applicable regs which required bagging them in special-marked asbestos garbage bags and informing the landfill so they could segregate the asbestos waste. When I took them to the landfill they just had me throw them in with the other waste and promptly ran over and ground them up with a bulldozer.

      1. The same applies to pretty much all home materials such as drywall, ducting, etc. if you have asbestos in such things,no need to freak out. It’s not going to be a risk unless you smash some holes in the walls, or cut up your ductwork. Asbestos is the silvery stuff on the outside of ducts and in the joint compound, not the drywall. Just be certain though that if something is damaged containing asbestos, thoroughly spray the damaged edges with something like 3m Super 77. It will contain the fibers.

  2. I have been a mechanic for a long time. In my tool box There is a bag with a paper tag that notes “Briggs and Stratton – This gasket contains asbestos, Please handle with care.” We were looking to buy a house and one we were looking at I asked the agent if I could make an offer. He said yes. The asking price was $170,000 USD. My offer was $50,000 USD. The agent almost fell over and asked “why so low?” I responded “The asbestos abatement would cost the remaining $120,000 USD.” The whole house was asbestos. Kitchen tile, ductwork insulation, siding, roofing tiles 3 layers down, Vermiculite in the attic, Furnace insulation, and the list goes on. In the USA almost every house prior to 1970 has some form of asbestos. The one I live in now has 8″x8″ tiles with the black glue and vermiculite in the attic. If you don’t know about the tiles and glue look it up. As long as you don’t mess with it your good.

      1. The link between lead exposure and neurological effects (most notably increase in violent crime following childhood exposure to to minute amounts of Pb in drinking water, topsoil / dust and paint) is one of those sad legacies we have to contend with.

        Ignoring it won’t make it better, but has the potential to cause contamination to keep spreading.

        There is evidence that some gastro-intestinal malignancies and pre-cancerous lesions are linked to asbestos exposure in drinking water, but the burden is measured in thousands of km of drinking water pipes which we can’t just replace in one go. The price has to be paid one way or the other, we only get to choose whether it’s in money or in years of life lost on a population level.

        And it’s so easy to create massive damage: In an article titled “Years of life lost to COVID-19”, the estimate is about 20.6 million years lost just in the first year (death and reduction of life expectancy). Thinking positive: what would you be willing to do to give everyone the chance to live 2 1/2 years longer at any point in their lives? – That’s roughly the drop in life expectancy for the US from 2019 to 2022.

        1. >what would you be willing to do to give everyone the chance to live 2 1/2 years longer at any point in their lives?

          Would those be healthy years, or sustaining someone in a near-death condition for just a bit longer?

        2. >The link between lead exposure and neurological effects (most notably increase in violent crime following childhood exposure to to minute amounts of Pb in drinking water, topsoil / dust and paint) is one of those sad legacies we have to contend with.

          Not quite. This is an unfortunate case of confusing correlation and causation; in reality, dumb and violent children also have a tendency to eat things that are not food (e.g. paint chips). Low IQ has plenty of co-morbidities that are well known (pica being one of them), but that doesn’t get you any research funding. Lead and asbestos are quite fine when handled safely and not intentionally aerosolized, and our culture of fear has unnecessarily removed some very useful materials from our engineering vocabulary. Not something to be celebrated, IMO.

          1. No, eating lead paint chips does not result from pica, it results from the fact that lead triggers our sweet taste receptors; children think it is candy. White lead pigment was used for years after the production of safe white titanium pigment even though lead was known to be toxic and attractive to children.
            Lead was intentionally aerosolized for generations from leaded gasoline, despite the fact that the lead compounds used were known to be highly toxic and easily absorbed and non-lead anti knock compounds were available.
            Both these situations existed because corporations found it profitable to produce and market cheap products that were a known danger to the public. Libertarianism in action.
            To say that something is “fine when handled safely” is meaningless jargon unless you specify what the handling needs are, what the environment will be and how the user is to be trained. Plutonium is “fine when handled safely”, as is Sarin gas. This does not mean they should be widely distributed to the general public and slathered randomly about the environment.

          2. >lead triggers our sweet taste receptors; children think it is candy.

            Lead itself doesn’t taste of much anything. You’re thinking about lead acetate, whereas the lead pigments are either lead chromate, lead oxide, or lead carbonate. Wikipedia makes a false statement that leaded paint tastes sweet by the same mix-up.

          3. >Libertarianism in action.

            Is it liberalism in action then, when you invent false accusations about how evil other people are in order to justify controlling everybody? Like knowing lead is “attractive to children”, when it isn’t.

            The real problem is that houses painted in lead shed off paint chips, so the whole environment gets polluted and the lead accumulates over decades. It was simply thought that the amount was too little and too diluted to matter, judged by adults who can tolerate much more lead than children.

            The historian’s fallacy is judging the past behavior of people according to modern standards (and then extrapolating back to modernity to condemn others arbitrarily), as if they didn’t have bigger problems and hazards to deal with, and genuinely considered something like lead paint or asbestos “no big deal”.

        3. The measures to suppress Covid 19 were worse. People forced to wear masks or punished by the police for not keeping a “required” distance. That was near psycho-terror. Especially after we had enogh vaccine so everybody could protect himself by getting a vaccination.
          I would have prefered the Swedish way.

          1. Assuming yer a Yank, some googling and calculating reveals the states pretty much did it the swedish way based on reported cases/deaths. Doing the same calculation using finlands cases/mortality rates suggests the states would have had 20 000 less deaths, assuming the 0,008% mortality rate for Sweden and 0,005% rate for Finland is scalable.

          2. Finland has a population density of 19/sq-km. Sweden is at 24/sq-km and the US is at 34/sq-km. It’s not possible to extrapolate mortality rates without taking into account how densely the people are living, and what other measures to deal with the outbreak apply.

            Mortality rates increase when the hospitals are full.

      1. As for some time basically all vermiculite came from the Libby mine where it had formed together with asbestiform contamination, the baseline assumption must be that all vermiculite you find in and around the house has a few percent asbestos in it. What’s worse still is that asbestos fiber bundles may also come apart under the high temperatures that make vermiculite puff up, helping it get airborne.

      1. Why is that? I’m aware of formaldehyde issues in extra low quality chipboard and mdf, but (at least in Europe) the regulations on the amount of formaldehyde emitted by mdf are pretty strict, so it should be pretty safe. We know very well how much formaldehyde poses a danger, and with normal quality building materials you’ll be below dangerous levels.

          1. Saw dust particles aren’t shaped in a way that can do damage to the lung tissue, nor is it hard enough to damage said tissue. You can fear saw dust all you like, but without science backing it up, it’s just useless scaremongering.

        1. Newer EU standards are. That doesn’t change the history of prior fabricated structures which are super expensive to swap over.

          Go smell a typical MDF sheet. It almost always smells like a MDF sheet. Then make your entire house out of it. Large sheets that literally make up the walls. Furniture. Kitchen cabinets. Bathroom cabinets. Then add in the carpets all over a typical house, which also likely has formaldehyde. Oh and PVC flooring that is probably 30% or more phthalates and that you walk on frequently. Typically the cheapest ones possible which are probably the most toxic since they are single chain linear style rather than more “held together” ones.

          It’s like a monomer versus a polymer and monomers tend to react more to your body and therefore tend to be more of a health issue. It’s also why some of the really, really bad phthalates are FINALLY banned, at least from some countries.

          I share your MDF concerns. There are also some regarding additives of some types of plastics as well since most plastics you get are not literally just that plastic. There are fire retardants and pigments and flexibility additives and fillers and all sorts of other things added yet it still falls under the “plastic number” category despite not being identical.

          Flexible PVC is NOT the same as rigid PVC despite both being called PVC.

          Polycarbonate also. It’s clear and it holds up well and it is cheap to make. Sort of like asbestos in terms of it’s great in many ways EXCEPT it is also toxic, just not immediately so. Better than asbestos? Hopefully. Still good? Probably not. At least the manufacturer can sort of swap to a different Bisphenol backbone. Except, of course, that costs more and doesn’t exactly resolve the fundamental issue here either since there are only so many options and not all are mass produced either.

    1. I’m perpetually a bit of a pessimist, but we have probably several dozen asbestos-level horrors currently being touted as “modern miracles” right now. And maybe we’ll catch a few of them in the next 40 years. Several we probably will never know about. I mean you can just look at pictures of people in the 1970s and before and see that there’s some vast metabolic toxin at work in recent decades. Probably several. Birth control and most recent agri-science is probably killing us en masse and we don’t realize it yet.

        1. Well, modern sugar (or high fructose corn syrup, fructose) is somewhat sweeter than regular white or brown sugar, and artificial sweeteners are significantly more so than natural sugars, and there’s a habit of adding all of that to foods to the point that people no longer find the plain stuff palatable. It’s not enough that you add sugar, they also add aspartame and suclarose etc. to make it even sweeter without adding calories. It’s not “mystery chemicals” per se – we know what they put in – it just completely artificial and a result of a kind of “loudness war” between corporations that try to sell you more food.

          It’s a big contrast going from the US to some other place; even the confectionery may be just like regular bread, because the people aren’t accustomed to so much sweet stuff.

  3. It appears that eliminating asbestos completely from one’s surroundings is nearly impossible. But, much like viral loads, limiting exposure can be nearly as effective. It seems that Judy Garland and her fellow main cast members managed to die of other causes, despite the one-off heavy asbestos snow as they approached the city of Oz.

    1. It’s like a lot of things that cause cancer – it’s a statistical process where the risk goes up with exposure. It’s guaranteed that you’ll breathe in some asbestos fibres during your lifetime; and across whole populations there will be a tiny percentage of people who get cancer from just that – but most cases will be in people who had sustained industrial exposure across years.

      This is why workers who are involved in asbestos remediation need strict PPE and procedures, but people can live in a house containing ACM with only minimal precautions, and homeowners can (in some jurisdictions) remove ACM from their own home with basic PPE since they will only be exposed once.

    1. PCBs are made from paper reinforced phenol-formaldehyde resin, they don’t contain asbestos. The resin, however, can offgas formaldehyde when heated too much.
      Not all bakelite has asbestos. Most of it is made with sawdust afaik. You’ll find the asbestos reinforced stuff in switchgear. But especially in bakelite there’s very little risk of fibres being released. Even when broken, bakelite doesn’t spread dust. Only when sawing or grinding you might be at risk.

  4. We live in a house built in 1978 and there is asbestos used in many places too, for instance both external and internal consumer units are well cladded with nice and soft asbestos sheating. Alse the roofing shingles are made of Eternit, which is in fact heat-treated asbestos. And the kitchen stove contains heat insulation sheeting made of asbestos too. And behold – no one here died of cancer so far! In fact, I am not at all convinced that the asbestos is so harmful to the manking as those experts say. Maybe they are just trying to scare people, as that seems to be their main occupation. So-called global warming and vaccination hysteria are other things from the same bin.

    1. I agree. There is always some exaggerated excuse to force people into mass disposal of old stuff so that industry can sell new stuff. Look at all the most successful businesses — they’re always in areas where they some how get everybody to re-buy their products over and over.

      Even if asbestos is terrible stuff, as long as you aren’t stirring it up to breathe it and you aren’t eating it, how is it supposed to cause trouble?

      1. ” as long as you aren’t stirring it up”

        Trying to remove all asbestos from public buildings may have caused far more damage than leaving the non-fluffy stuff in situ.

        If it is the fluffy stuff and is probably going to be disturbed, it should probably come out, otherwise just secure it. Like when the contractor put a layer of sheetrock over our popcorn ceiling.

    2. It’s not acutely harmful. If you’re only exposed to a little bit, your lungs will be a little damaged, you’ll never notice, and that’s the end of it. It’s the people that are exposed every day that show noticeable symptoms.

      That doesn’t mean you want it around your house. How would you feel if we went back to leaded gasoline? Most people exposed to that were also “just fine” just a few IQ points stupider.

      1. Leaded gasoline vs violent crime studies in the USA is interesting reading. The correlation is statistically visible. Difference here though is, everyone in every major city were exposed to lead around the clock. Asbestos as it was used never exposed large swaths of the population to the dust. Undisturbed whatever product made with asbestos is far safer than airborne lead particles from leaded gasoline. Also, as far as i know, asbestos doesnt migrate up the food chain like lead.

  5. Might have killed Steve McQueen
    From Wikipedia
    “…”McQueen developed a persistent cough in 1978. He gave up cigarettes and underwent antibiotic treatments without improvement. His shortness of breath grew more pronounced, and on December 22, 1979, after filming The Hunter, a biopsy revealed pleural mesothelioma,[109] a cancer associated with asbestos exposure for which there is no known cure. …”

  6. The point about destroyed houses and infrastructure in Ukraine is a window into the future of other countries when it comes to the asbestos burden. A lot of it comes down to shortages (e.g. sand) and imperative to recycle.

    Building materials need to be asbestos-free to be acceptable for recycling, which means that for the most part, what has been destroyed in Ukraine will go to big landfills until more energy-efficient methods to recycle asbestos waste have been developed. The need for resources to rebuild after the war will either have to be met with less resource-intensive building methods, or through accepting another 50-100 year setback in asbestos abatement efforts as an exemption for sorted and crushed rubble used in non-friable product like concrete could be made.
    However, considering that Ukraine only a few weeks ago put into effect legislation to ban asbestos [1], and recognizing that it is way behind the EU ban starting 2005 mostly due to russian interests and influence, calling an an exemption for recycled asbestos unpopular would be an understatement.

    Asphalt production is a similar issue. Recent inroads into recycling it [2] highlight the need to avoid granting asbestos yet another lease on life [3].

    [2] 100% recycled asphalt

  7. What are you talking about? Are you suggesting that the result of the war has been a net benefit, to Ukraine and to Russia? Why are “property rights” something you celebrate being ignored? Do you agree with Putin?

    1. You don’t have to believe Putin about war, but you should NEVER EVER believe the USA about war. I believe most people’s age on this forum is sufficient that they should have four or five examples in their memories of why you don’t do that.

    2. What are you talking about?

      > suggesting that the result of the war has been a net benefit

      If it was up to me, the USA would not sell warfare arms or the design of warfare arms to other countries, would not interfere in the conflict of nations outside of our North American sphere, which includes the Ukraine, and would not embargo, tariff, or otherwise attack other countries, such as Iran, that did not directly attack the USA. If it was up to me we would not be borrowing money from China, Russia, and Japan … to send to Ukraine. But, in our Actor Based Reality, it is not up to me.

      What I look at as horrible and pray for the relief of the innocent people of BOTH the Ukraine and Russia being killed, the family of actors that run this reality look at it as urban renewal AND the upgrading of military assets.

      They view warfare as urban renewal. It is as simply as that.

      I wanted to be a history professor at one time and I have propaganda from Russia I picked up when I visited the Russia warships in Boston Harbor in the 1970s. Standing inside another nation’s warship gives you a bit more insight into the country and I for one found no reason celebrate the sinking of Russia’s cruiser with the USA’s help.

      So, I was not surprised in the least that Russia finally around to retaking the Crimea.

      > Do you agree with Putin?

      On what? He is one of the most intelligent actors on the world stage, and he has made a lot of grand speeches and interviews. imho, They all lie like they breathe.

  8. For building materials that had a direct asbestos-free replacement, date of structure may not represent the date the materials were produced, especially if they weren’t labelled as containing asbestos. For material which doesnt decay, LIFO is generally easier than FIFO inventory strategies.

    1. When my folks bought the house I grew up in, there was a barn in the back garden built mainly of corrugated asbestos. They took it down when I was very little, but there was still a few panels lying around when we were kids. We found that it smashed very satisfyingly when you threw rocks at it, and took great pleasure in reducing it to fragments.
      As it was only a few sheets, and we were outdoors it was *probably* fine. No lung cancer yet…

  9. At a shop where I did radio work, the guys next door serviced the vehicles. One of the old-time mechanics would put a car up on the lift and take off the wheels. Then, holding a rag over his face, he’s blow the dust out of the brakes through the shop door with an air hose. I can still see that cloud of God-knows-what drifting down the lot.

    1. To me it feels like these could be highly problematic under certain circumstances and the early, jovial demonstrations of pulling CNT fibers from highly aligned CNT-laden surfaces looked like this would be exactly like asbestos (MWCNTs seem to spell trouble, see “Lung Lining Interaction Determines the Fate of Multi-Walled Carbon Nanotubes (MWCNTs) in vivo”, 2015. doi: 10.1096/fasebj.29.1_supplement.1016.2).
      On the bright side, defects and functionalization can help the body eliminate CNTs. It’s nice to think that they can eventually be oxidized (unlike silicates).

      In another study (doi: 10.1016/j.addr.2013.07.007) they looked into using CNTs as a drug delivery vehicle.

      Me, I don’t trust that stuff. CNTs feel too much like nanoparticle synthesis where a fraction of them just won’t come out right and have vastly different properties – and then good luck purifying them. Asbestos would probably say: c’mon, take the hint.

  10. I had a conversation about asbestos usage with a friend recently. My personal favourite usage was for the filter tips of Kent Micronite cigarettes in the 1950s, closely followed by it being used for fake snow in the Wizard of Oz (and many other films).

    As a species, we’re doomed!

    1. Well, asbestos is fire-rwistant, which makes sense for something that it literally burned during use. And all that tobacco smoke is going to cause cancer anyway!

      When Kent phased out the asbestos filters, there were probably people back then saying “derp it’s muh right to suck on asbestos! Muh freedomz!!”

  11. All the lab bench tops I’ve ever worked on were asbestos. As long as you didn’t sand them down making dust, I was told, it was no heath risk whatsoever. I actually kind of believe that. Similar examples exist like how barium is a very toxic heavy metal but is still used ad an oral X-ray contrast agent. You literally eat it but it’s in a form that provides no health risk at all. Or so they say.

    1. Not sure the analogy carries that far. BaSO4 used as a contrast medium is essentially insoluble at physiological pH levels and comes out the other end unchanged.

      As far as asbestos goes, the great deception is that it’s depicted and identified by its macroscopic fluffy fibers, but what ultimately kills you is not much unlike the fine dust that makes it through the vacuum filter bag, coating the motor housing and HEPA filter – the particulates that also remain suspended in the air and usually cannot be seen for anything more than a light haze, or like tobacco smoke.

      Except you’re the filter and the dust won’t just come back out, safely wrapped in soe mucus.

    2. @craig My dad worked for a company Western Slate based in Elmhurst Illinois USA in the 1980’s. The company made lab table tops, locomotive floorboards and high voltage switchgear panels. All of those products were made out of slate and had the weight that went with it. I always assumed all lab tables were made of slate as if you ever try to move one it takes three men and a boy!

  12. there is asbestos and then there is asbestos
    soap stone is a form of asbestos,harmless
    then there is crocodolite,lethal
    my granpa worked the alegany national forge and talked about pulling out the asbestos furnace linings
    by hand,”up to his eyeballs in it”lived to 92
    got thrown out of the nursing home cause he was
    caught trying to murder the room mate he was put with
    “wouldn’t shut up”,clubbing him with his walker

  13. I have always wanted to find data on asbestos related deaths from Hamilton, Ontario, Canada. As a kid driving from buffalo ny to detroit and seeing a snow like covering on every roof in a large area (not winter!) and was told it was from mining or processing asbestos… I have also known many “old timers” in the heating trade including one that had a golfball sized cyst removed from a lung when he was mid 70’s that was asbestos his body walled off he was told by his doc (not malignant) and stories by a couple 80+ yr old brothers telling ne how they were to find their father after school where he was installing a coal furnace and their job would be to wrap asbestos sheeting around the duct pipes before installation. They held the asbestos in their mouths while assembling the pipe section. One of my aunts worked at a company that made those gaskets someone mentioned above for most of her working life. These people all lived to ripe old ages, no cancer. I do have a friend whose father was in the Merchant Marine that died young from mesothieloma (asbestos related cancer) horribly.
    I’m just saying that while these are anecdotes not science, take basic precautions, leave it undisturbed if possible, wet it down if you must move it or use it, encapsulate if you must and remove it as a last resort (like lead paint). I personally believe not everything is cyanide, science often changes when more is learned, science often stops looking for new info when there is money to be made , removing stuff spreads it everywhere, and it’s probably more genetics than anything else IMO

  14. I have a friend whose mother died in the early 70’s of asbestosis from her work at a shipyard during WWII. Also, my grandfather moved into a manufactured home in 1978 which had such a high level of formaldehyde fumes that everyone’s eyes watered when visiting him. He became accustomed to the exposure and was not bothered. The smell and the eye irritation was dramatic. I contacted the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission regarding the formaldehyde stench and was offered an expense paid trip to Atlanta to testify before a federal panel inquiring into the issue. I had to decline due to work responsibilities.
    I assume the strong formaldehyde fumes were from adhesives and other materials used in construction of the pre-fab home.

    1. All the toilets are fairly new. I was replacing an improperly installed ceiling lamp today because it was shorting out, being covered in dust and white/yellowish fiberglass, with a $10 Made In China ceiling lamp from Home Depot. All I could think about was this topic and how many people are dying in Ukraine, including Russian soldiers (supposedly) from exposure while I am nice and toasty inside with my wood burning stove.

      That and the neutral wire has changed from white to a light brown, cracked in various places, and the previous lamp was held up with oversized wood screws into the metal box threads.

      I realized the only thing I could change in the world at the moment was my dust laden shirt covered in fibers, and wash it by itself, before I sat down to eat after washing myself down.

  15. Back in 2002 or 03 the school I work at had asbestos floor tiles in most rooms ( in the sink area’s,the rest was all carpeted )
    the entire school ( 3 buildings) had to be completely sealed off with plastic sheeting and tube tunnels and the work crew all had hazmat suits to remove all the tile.
    we recently had some cabinets removed due to water damage…… low and behold , right under it was some pretty untouched blue asbestos tile.

  16. Some years ago in a school in Meridian, Idaho, they sealed off a section of hallway then fully stripped and rewaxed the floor tile. The reason was to see if stripping and rewaxing the floors released any asbestos into the air. The result was no, not a bit.

    Should have been obvious. As old as the tile was, and as many times over the decades it had been stripped and rewaxed without wearing out, there wasn’t any material coming off the tile.

    It’s like with mercury. It’s natural in the environment, impossible to eliminate. In some locations it’s literally right there on the ground, don’t even have to dig it up. The region of Idaho I’m in, one can go digging around in mountain creeks to do gold panning and get little mercury balls in the pan. It’s naturally there, not left behind by gold prospectors using it to refine gold. Near Weiser, ID was a mine which used to be the largest producer of mercury in the USA.

    Mercury, asbestos, and lead all have uses for which they are the absolute best material. The key thing is to use them safely. Seal mercury into switch capsules. Embed asbestos into resins and other materials that won’t release fibers if broken – and don’t saw or grind them. Don’t lick things made of or containing lead.

    One of the craziest mercury bans is in tilt switches in HVAC thermostats. Are there any cases of a toddler pushing something to climb on by a thermostat, climbing up, taking the thermostat apart, ripping out the tilt switch, breaking it open and swallowing the mercury?

    Dioxins are another naturally occurring class of substances which can be toxic in the right circumstances. Every forest fire creates a lot of dioxins and other things that can be harmful.

    I did know a guy whose lung cancer was mostly likely decades delayed from a period of loose asbestos fiber exposure in his 20’s. He was in the US Navy, communications and electronics. He had to climb and crawl through all the nooks and crannies of ships to install and maintain the equipment. If all that pipe and other insulation had been made with binders that couldn’t let fibers break free, it wouldn’t have been a problem.

    1. I’d be more worried about what happens when your mercury tilt switch goes into the landfill. Mixing with the other chemicals there might get it into a more bio-available compound than the little mercury balls you describe in nature.

      Whether there are likely to be enough thermostats in a landfill for that to matter… I don’t know.

    2. …cases of todlers…? No but some of them have (Chinese made, wha´t else) shoes with blinking LEDs controlled by a mercury tilt switch. Which, of course goes into the landfill when the shoes get too small or just torn.

  17. I worked with Asbestos as a young mechanic, relining brakeshoes for trucks.
    It was already forbidden, but one truck manufacturer had an exception since none of the modern replacement materials worked

    The asbestos tiles on my grandfathers house built in the 40s ? was as good as new, including the ones he nailed to the barn to have replacement tiles that was equally sun bleetched.
    He went for trough coloured red tiles, and they were still a nice red colour 2010

    It was a fantastic material for house sidings and brakeshoes, nothing modern has even come close to that longevity.

    I really would like a house siding that doesn’t need any work for atleast 70 years, not even a repaint

    1. My brick house has not been painted in 51+ years and except for crack filling here and there, that has been it for upkeep as far as I can tell. I do not know what they do at the “ivy” colleges, but, from visiting friends, I do not recall any of the brick work being painted at Harvard.

      In the Atlanta area, asbestos shingles/siding are not uncommon. A lot of light blue colored ones and pale yellow, I have never seen red ones as far as I know. One you spray them down, they do look fairly new.

  18. It is not necessary to have an electron microscope to positively ID asbestos. It is routinely done with what are basically petrographic light microscopes. It does require a bit of specialized training, but what doesn’t?

  19. When I was a kid in the late 60s we had a “coffee warmer” that was an asbestos disc with a handle. You put the disc on your stove burner and set the glass pot of coffee on top. The asbestos would keep the flame from burning the coffee, but still kept it warm.

    When we were done with coffee we would let the warmer cool off, then we would just toss it back in the kitchen utensils drawer. So I’m sure I have not only inhaled asbestos but also it’s been in my GI tract. Great…

  20. I suspect the asbestos debacle will resurge in the form of the carbon nanotube debacle in due time. The shape and size is similar, and no doubt nanotubosis will be a thing if it is employed in the same careless manner as asbestos was.

  21. We had also asbestos cement water pipes where I grew up (and lead pipes in Vienna). What probably helps is the high hardness of the water so the pipes were covered internally with a thick crust of lime.

  22. While there are apparently occupational hazards from asbestos, most uses of it homes encapsulate it so that is harmless unless sawn or sanded. The hysteria that some media and so-called scientists try to generate is designed to enrich themselves and are to be ignored.

    Of course, it makes little sense to use asbestos containing products if there are effective alternatives. I still have a roll of asbestos impregnated sheet insulation that I’ve been try to figure out how to dispose of safely. It is safe in a plastic tube and probably less hazardous than the 5 gallons of trichloroethylene or red lead paint in my shop.

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