Why to Avoid Asbestos at All Costs: Faith Franz

LATE last year, Jennifer Marohasy posted an article offering her opinion on why asbestos use has a place in modern society [1]. We recently reached out to her about offering another perspective, and she graciously opened the floor up for us at The Mesothelioma Center to explain our dissenting opinion.

As advocates for those who suffer from asbestos-related diseases, The Mesothelioma Center certainly has a different position than Dr. Marohasy. The more that we connect with patients suffering from debilitating asbestos-related diseases, the more we believe that there is no place for asbestos use in an enlightened era of educated decisions and non-carcinogenic alternatives.

The International Labor Organization estimates that 100,000 workers worldwide die each year from asbestos-related diseases. Yet the asbestos industry continues to have help in its fight for survival, thanks to the backing of lobbyists and industry-funded researchers who insist that the fibers can be safely mined and processed.

Dr. Marohasy believes it’s out of line to shut down an industry without considering the benefits of the products they produce. Fair enough. Let’s look at the benefits [2]:
• Asbestos is cheap and helps manufacturers cut costs on their materials.
• Asbestos is highly fire-retardant, and it adds a strong fireproof element to industrial products and construction materials.

Those are the primary benefits of asbestos. A bit underwhelming, don’t you think? Especially since alternatives with equal fireproofing power exist.
You might be able to make a case that asbestos has protected many people from fatal burns and other fire-related injuries (Ironically, the United States’ fire death rate per million actually decreased 20 percent from 2000 to 2009 – long after asbestos was eliminated or reduced in many insulating products.). However, the way that some proponents portray it, you’d think that asbestos was the only fireproofing material known to man.

In reality, ceramic foam, non-PBDE (polybrominated dephenyl ether) polyurethane foam and thermoset plastic flour are all alternatives that pose far fewer health risks [3] to people who work with them. Companies would have to shell out more money to procure these products . . . but from an ethical and moral standpoint, shouldn’t that be an easy decision?

Are we really saying it’s okay to place economic value over the value of human life? This kind of corporate mentality sacrifices human rights for the sake of monetary profit; and as a society we have to collectively stop such crimes against humanity.

Dr. Marohasy closes her defense of asbestos by posing the following question to her readers:

“Can’t the product be used in ways that give advantage, while safeguarding the health of workers?”

There is no choosing a safe route with asbestos. You can’t mine, process and then create materials with it without creating a health hazard. When you insist on playing with carcinogen, you insist on putting people at risk for cancers. Once you work with mesothelioma patients whose tumors are literally suffocating them, you find it hard to justify putting people at risk for this debilitating disease – even if you think there is a way to safeguard them against that risk.
Second, does anyone want to trust a company – be it a small mom-and-pop or a large conglomerate – to safeguard worker health?

When the asbestos industry was booming in the United States, CEOs created elaborate cover-up schemes that concealed the dangers of asbestos from their employees. They worried that their workers would leave if they knew they were risking painful, prolonged deaths or endangering the health of their families. Rather than provide them with protective gear, the companies lied to their employees. If asbestos could indeed be safely used for its advantages, why wouldn’t the companies have done so by now?

The more that we connect with the people whose lives been devastated by these entirely preventable diseases, the more strongly we feel that asbestos should be avoided at all costs. The concern for the economic effects of terminating the asbestos industry would be better directed at the families already torn apart by its continued operation. When human safety is on the line, there’s simply no room for misguided attempts to “control” a carcinogen – especially one that has already needlessly claimed hundreds of thousands of lives.

Author bio: Faith Franz researches and writes about health-related issues for The Mesothelioma Center [4]. One of her focuses is living with cancer.

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References:

1. Why Use Asbestos? December 5, 2011. http://jennifermarohasy.com/2011/12/why-use-asbestos/

2. Asbestos Containing Consumer Products. http://www.asbestos.com/products/consumer.php

3. Mesothelioma Risk Factors. http://www.asbestos.com/mesothelioma/risk-factors.php

4. Mesothelioma Center. http://www.asbestos.com/mesothelioma/

Sources:

International Labour Organization. Asbestos: the iron grip of latency. (10 January 2006). Retrieved from http://www.ilo.org/global/about-the-ilo/press-and-media-centre/news/WCMS_076282/lang–en/index.htm

U.S. Fire Administration. Trends in Overall Fire Death Rates 2000-2009. (17 July 2012). Retrieved from http://www.usfa.fema.gov/statistics/estimates/trend_overall.shtm

20 Responses to Why to Avoid Asbestos at All Costs: Faith Franz

  1. John Sayers July 27, 2012 at 11:33 am #

    This is an interesting subject. The yearly deaths doesn’t compute with the number that should be dying if it’s as dangerous as they say it is. Many suburbs of Australia’s cities and towns consist of fibro homes, practically all the homes in my small country town are fibro.

    It is reasonable to assume that most of the carpenters throughout the 40s – 80s (it was banned in 1987) worked with asbestos on a a daily basis yet 100K deaths per year in the US population accounts for approx .05% of the nation’s annual death toll.

    I worked on fibro building sites in the 70s yet I am only aware of one person affected by asbestos and that is a sailor who worked on boilers sealed with asbestos in the Navy. He has just had his first pulps confirmed in his lungs yet he’s in his 70s and is already in a home for a stroke related event.

    Obviously it may be sensible to avoid the product in the future but the current paranoia regarding fibro homes etc and the requirement to have professionals remove fibro sheets is way over the top.

  2. Larry Fields July 27, 2012 at 2:52 pm #

    El Dorado Hills is a yuppie community 20 minutes from where I live. Several years ago, asbestos was discovered in the local soil.

    There is more than one kind of asbestos. One type is more hazardous than the other. And I don’t know which type was found in El Dorado Hills.

    Anyway, there was a concern within that community. And some harm-reduction measures were put in place. Despite the common knowledge about asbestos, house prices in El Dorado Hills are still among the highest in California. Does the market know something that environmentalists don’t?

    Sorry, I have not followed this story as closely as I should have. And I cannot supply the details that everyone wants to know. You can google on El Dorado Hills, and get much more information.

    I’d like to add that I was slightly put off by the words, “should be avoided at all costs” in the article. Rational people, who are concerned about environmental issues, are very sparing in their use of such expressions.

    Yes, some people have died horrible deaths, because of asbestos exposure, and because of gross negligence on the part of others higher on the food chain. That does not make asbestos ‘evil’. We have asbestos regulations in place now. Are they adequate? Hell if I know.

    However I do know that there’s way too much ‘crying wolf’ going on in environmental circles. Any legitimate concern can be hyped to the point of becoming Scare-of-the-Month-Club fodder.

  3. Stephen Williams July 27, 2012 at 5:29 pm #

    Are not there distinct differences between blue and white asbestos? http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/uknews/1381270/Christopher-Bookers-Notebook.html Is Booker wrong or is there more to the story than the above article?

  4. Hasbeen July 27, 2012 at 6:16 pm #

    Like many things pushed by greenies, & picked up by ill informed politicians, this one is probably very similar to the banning of DDT.

    It would be interesting to do some research into how many died in car accidents, in the 10 years after asbestos was banned.

    Automotive brakes of the day depended on asbestos for heat resistance. It took years for replacement materials to become even near as efficient as asbestos had been. In Oz the death toll due to poor brakes in the next 10 years probably exceeded those caused by the stuff.

  5. Gary Prince July 27, 2012 at 6:56 pm #

    As a quantity surveyor of among other things Asbestos in buildings, living in Denmark where Asbestos has been banned since 1980, I didn’t think I’d learn anything here – but I was wrong and Jenny Marohasy has impressed me again.

    Point nr 1. There is white abestos, about 95% of commercial use, and there is no documentation that white asbestos causes cancer.

    Point nr. 2. The other types of asbestos (blue, brown etc.) are known to cause cancer, especially among employees in the asbestos industry.

    In as much as these dangerous types of asbestos are found in buildings today there is (all be it very small) a chance that people in those building could get asbestosis.

    Its all very good saying the risk is very small – but would you voluntarily send your kids to a school in which you knew there was asbestos.

    The costs of removing asbestos are exhorbitant (and people like me make lots of money from it). Quite often the government here in Danmark chooses to hush up exactly how many schools have asbestos built into them and prefers incapsuling to defer costs.

    I should add that the danish government DOES NOT distinguish between white asbesotos and other types – they are all banned.

  6. Allan July 27, 2012 at 7:08 pm #

    The sentence “Second, does anyone want to trust a company – be it a small mom-and-pop or a large conglomerate – to safeguard worker health? ” is extremely offensive.
    Who is this arrogant fool who thinks she is the fount of all wisdom.
    I ran a small food manufacturing business where it was my constant concern that staff would loose or break parts while operating knives , machinery or walking in wet areas.
    I did not need some petty bureaucrat to tell me to look after my staff who were also my friends.
    My disdain for Faith Franz knows no bounds if she thinks that all business owners and managers treat their staff with such contempt.

  7. Tony Price July 28, 2012 at 1:28 am #

    This is an example of “guilt by association”. the association in this case being a common name. There are no similarities, chemical or physical, between white asbestos and the blue and brown asbestos know to cause lung problems and mesothelioma.

    White asbestos was used for decades to filter beer, wine, and fruit cordials, amongst many other liquids for human consumption, and also in the chemical industry. If there were any danger from its use, the effects should have showed up long ago, amongst workers in those industries.

  8. kuhnkat July 28, 2012 at 11:17 am #

    Is any of this out of date??

    http://scienceworld.wolfram.com/chemistry/Asbestos.html

  9. kuhnkat July 28, 2012 at 11:21 am #

    Sorry, should have finished reading the post before commenting.

    This person is using the usual epidemiological LNT BS. It is all gonna kill you so you might as well end your own life so you will stop polluting the world and killing others.

    HEY!!!! When are you going to stop making people miserable with your JUNK SCIENCE!!!!

  10. John Sayers July 28, 2012 at 1:10 pm #

    Wattsupwiththat.com has closed down pending a major announcement

    http://wattsupwiththat.com/2012/07/27/wuwt-publishing-suspended-major-announcement-coming/

  11. sp July 29, 2012 at 1:23 am #

    asbestos is a product with many useful applications – but dangerous to manufacture and dispose of. I think one problem is the product is often not recognised by others much later in its downstream life cycle (say demolition of an old house) and (my understanding is) a few fibres can cause damage to an innocent and unsuspecting person (they are not aware what it is) and unlikely to take proper precaution. Symptoms can often take a long time to manifest – so affected person is not aware and often too late to treat effectively. Yes – depends on which asbestos in question. A very difficult situation. Wish I could be more helpfull

  12. Binny July 29, 2012 at 8:11 am #

    While the author, no doubt has good reason to be emotional about the subject. Argument from emotion is not the way to advanced society.
    The parallel here could be lead. For centuries people used to lead in various ways, without realizing how dangerous it was. But now that the danger is known lead still being used but just in more cautious ways, that are not dangerous.
    Also the author has revealed her (shall we say political colours) with her comment about trusting any company.
    That is the classic left- wing, employer = evil exploiter of the worker, statement.
    Faith; If you replace the word ‘company’ with any racial group, you might understand just how offensive that comment is.

  13. Debbie July 29, 2012 at 12:39 pm #

    Well said Binny,
    The argument is based on emotions and political ideologies and is offensive when it just lumps all businesses associated with manufacturing in the one box….which is synonymous with racism.
    However, I have no issue with the fact that Faith would be very very concerned about the direct link with asbestos and a certain type of cancer.
    The ‘solutions’ are the real issue….not the fact that it is a problem.
    Emotions and political ideologies are generally not good platforms to find solutions.
    When those platforms are employed….the ‘victims’ often end up being used as emotional political footballs rather than being allowed to be part of a good solution.

  14. Cliff Maurer July 29, 2012 at 2:40 pm #

    Why are anti-asbestos activists so focused on mesothelioma when other asbestos diseases are far more prevalent?
    Asbestos exposure is not even the only risk factor for mesothelioma- it is not even a factor in many cases.
    The forms of asbestos regarded as having higher exposure risk for mesothelioma also tend to have higher nickel content. So it shouldn’t be surprising that exposure to nickel compounds (for example in stainless steel fabrication and welding and nickel electroplating) is a known causal factor.
    More surprising is that SV-40 virus is also a known causal factor. More than 100 million people worldwide were directly infected with SV-40 from contaminated polio vaccination programs in the 1950s and 1960s, and the subsequent continuing natural infection rate of SV-40 is not known.

  15. jim2 July 29, 2012 at 11:32 pm #

    So, according to this article, asbestos can be just about anywhere many common minerals are found:

    “Asbestos becomes dangerous only when the minerals like Chrysotile, Tremolite, Actinolite, Anthophyllite, Amosite, Crocidolite, etc. become disturbed (Types of Asbestos, 2009). Serpentine which is a main source for asbestos, is found all over California (Patterson, 2010, p. 335). These minerals and others like them are brittle and easy to become airborne (Types of Asbestos, 2009). ”

    http://voices.yahoo.com/naturally-occurring-asbestos-el-dorado-county-ca-5217095.html

  16. Larry Fields July 30, 2012 at 5:10 pm #

    Thanks for the link, jim2. Interesting article.

  17. Bruce August 5, 2012 at 6:17 pm #

    The great asbestos scare goes back quite a while.

    There are several materials that are called “asbestos”, despite being chemically unrelated.

    But let’s briefly assume that it is all the same stuff for a minute. Then consider that “asbestos” is so ubiquitous in our general environment that each of us breathes in approximately 14,000 microscopic fibres of it each day. See: “Asbestos and other natural mineral fibres”, Environmental Health Criteria, 53 (WHO, Geneva, 1986).

    So, what is this stuff?

    On form of so-called “Asbestos” includes several varieties of Iron Silicate; and generally known as “amphiboles”. Among these are the “Blue” and Brown” variety of “Asbestos”. One characteristic of these materials is that the fibres are relatively “long”, straight, narrow, sharp and acid resistant. These fibres can and do penetrate lung and surrounding tissue and it seems that the body cannot dissolve or removed by the body’s defences. They are essentially a cumulative hazard.

    Much more common is “White’ asbestos or “Chrysotile”, a form of Magnesium Silicate and related to talcum powder. Chrysotile fibres are soft and flexible and easily attacked by acids, including weak body acids as found inside lungs. Sucking in a heavy daily dose of these fibres will cause problems, but so will excessive inhalation of any other particulate matter.

    It is this latter, soft and flexible form of “Asbestos” that is used as a reinforcing fibre in “Asbestos Cement” products (“Fibro” to Australians.) Just out of interest, the use of “Asbestos” fibres as reinforcing in cement pipes etc was pioneered by An Italian, Adolfo Mazza, in 1911. However, its use as reinforcement has been noted in 4,000 year-old pottery found in Finland. The ancient Greeks and Romans were familiar with fire-resistant cloth woven from Chrysitile, as were the Chinese as observed by Marco Polo. It had also long been used in Greece and Turkey to reinforce plaster or stucco on the outside of buildings.

    Getting a steady dose of ANY fibre, soluble or not, in ones lungs is not a good idea. Banning one material because of the hazards of another does seem a little excessive, though.

    Final note: The US EPA classified “Asbesto” as a “Class 1″ carcinogen in the lead-up to the total ban in 1989.

    Thus “Asbestos” is lumped with nickel compounds, alcohol, leather, chromium, sawdust, oral contraceptives, PVC, SOLAR RADIATION, and many other substances in daily, global use.

    So far, we have not been completely barred from sawing timber, drinking beer or walking in the sunshine. Well, not YET.

    The scope of “Science by litigation” is also worth a look. And then there is the story of the case of a company called “Eternit” who were having “issues” with the price asked by their suppliers of Chrysitile. So, apparently, it seemed like a good idea to move away from manufacturing products using “White” asbestos and find (cheaper) substitutes. By bailing out of Chrysotile, there was a risk that such a move was an admission of “problems” with the material. So, The company management had a little chat to the US claims lawyers who were leading the charge. The deal was, apparently, that Eternit would support the ban and the legal predators would leave them alone in future actions.

    And then there is the “removal industry” and a twist. The owners of the World Trade Centre (remember those towers) and La Guardia Airport faced a bill of over $1 BILLION to replace the insulation. Stuff that had cost 25 cents per foot to install cost $25 DOLLARS per foot to remove.

  18. Libby August 18, 2012 at 6:29 pm #

    Thanks Faith for your information. Much appreciated.

  19. Peter December 16, 2012 at 10:55 pm #

    Has work been done to correlate asbestos diseases with smoking. I understand that a large number of people with mesothelioma were at some time heavy smokers which meant that asbestos fibres could not be cleared from their lungs and eventually being stuck in tar for many years developed into cancers. It is noteworthy that the number of cancer cases attributed to asbestos has never come lose to the frightening estimates that were projected in the 80’s and are still being used. Asbestos is hazardous but it is simply not true that exposure to one fibre is enough to lead inexorably to a horrible death.

  20. spangled drongo December 31, 2012 at 1:53 pm #

    It has always interested me why governments never shouldered any responsibility for many of the victims but instead blamed the miners and the processors. Up until the 1980s govts mandated that asbestos be used in certain high-risk, fire-prone areas and you had no choice but to use it. This was the high-risk asbestos more common with meso too.

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