Better Things for Better Living (part-ii)

Better Things for Better Living (part-ii)

Dangers of Asbestos and its Replacements

 

In the recent past asbestos siding was regarded as an excellent product and houses were sided with it. These same siding panels are still on the houses and have needed no repair or upkeep. Besides making the houses resistant to fire for all these years, they look as good as new. Interestingly, in the beginning, no one had the idea that when inhaled asbestos becomes deadly. However, it is only when asbestos is disturbed that it becomes a health threat to human beings.

Asbestos is a naturally occurring material with unusual qualities that was used commonly in buildings for insulation. It is strong enough to resist high temperatures, chemical attack and wear. A poor conductor, it insulates well against heat and electricity. Asbestos crystals become long, flexible, silky fibres, so it can be made into a wide variety of forms. It can be spun into yarn, woven into cloth or braided into rope. Asbestos can also be added to materials as diverse as cotton and cement. This combination of properties gives asbestos performance capabilities that are difficult to match.

Asbestos is commonly found in ceiling tiles, flooring and pipes. Asbestos becomes a danger only when it is disturbed, causing the fibers to become airborne. This is commonly referred to as friable asbestos, while intact asbestos is referred to as Non-friable asbestos. Friable asbestos becomes airborne and the human lungs are susceptible to it while breathing in the airborne fibers. While research has yet to determine a safe level of exposure to asbestos, one thing is for certain; the more prolonged the exposure, the greater the risk becomes for developing an asbestos- related disease.

 

Doctors often compare the dangers associated with asbestos to those of smoking cigarettes. The more cigarettes one smokes, the greater becomes the danger for developing lung cancer. Similarly, the more one is exposed to asbestos, the greater becomes the chance for developing an asbestos- related disease. This is why asbestos poisoning is often called an occupational hazard disease, because the people who commonly work with the material are the most at risk for developing an asbestos -related disease.

 

Generally, there are three diseases that are triggered by inhaling asbestos fibers: asbestosis, mesothelioma, and lung cancer. Asbestosis is caused when asbestos fibers are inhaled and become trapped in the lungs. In response, the body tries to dissolve the fibers by producing an acid which besides destroying the fibers, serves to scar the lung tissues too. Eventually the scarring can become so severe that the lungs may become unable to function. The time from exposure to the manifestation of asbestosis in most patients is between 25 to 40 years. Mesothelioma is a cancer of the outside tissue of the lungs. This cancer is solely linked to asbestos. The time from exposure to manifestation of mesothelioma is from 15 to 35 years. Cancer of the lungs can also be caused by exposure to asbestos. However, the chances of developing lung cancer from asbestos are greatly increased with smoking. The exposure to manifestation period for lung cancer from asbestos exposure is also from 15 to 35 years.

 

Despite many common myths, initial exposure cannot be detected by medical x-rays or physiological symptoms. Asbestos exposure does not cause headaches, fever, or muscle aches. The symptoms of exposure go unnoticed for at least 15 years. However, at the time of manifestation, doctors can determine asbestos exposure. The risk of being exposed to asbestos is increased by its presence in construction material. Work on ceilings and flooring can cause the asbestos to become friable. This is why non-friable asbestos is often recommended to be left intact instead of getting it removed as Asbestos does not just chip away or decomposes; it must be physically disturbed to pose a threat to human health.

 

When asbestos is required to be removed, either before or during a construction project, or due to an accidental disturbance, state laws require that certain precautions and procedures be followed. These regulations aim to ensure that the appropriate steps are taken during an abatement procedure, and all health and safety-related precautions are taken. Here a good argument can be made that well-maintained asbestos objects can safely be left in place, but the invisible hazard of asbestos is so worrisome that even tight-fisted school Boards are paying large sums of money to remove old asbestos wherever they find it.

 

Amazingly, while we hear nowadays a lot about aluminum, which is widely used in siding, we do not talk much about “vinyl” which is usually polyvinyl chloride (PVC),a  polymer of vinyl chloride, CH2 = CHCl having hundreds of vinyl chloride monomers in each molecule of the polymer. In addition to its use in siding and flooring, it is widely used in pipes used in plumbing and many other articles of daily use. However, both these substitutes of asbestos are not free from drawbacks and hazards. While aluminium ions have been correlated to onset of Alzimer’s disease, in case of a fire, PVC besides adding fuel to fire, releases HCl gas, which is dangerous. Hence both the aluminium articles and the monomer vinyl chloride must be handled carefully and cautiously because aluminum is neuro-toxic and PVC is a severe carcinogen and has been blamed for several deaths.

Even though aluminum is not considered to be a heavy metal like Cadmium, Mercury, and Lead, it becomes toxic in excessive amounts and even in small amounts if it is deposited in the brain. Many of the symptoms of aluminum toxicity mimic those of Alzheimer’s disease and osteoporosis. Colic, rickets, gastrointestinal problems, interference with the metabolism of calcium, extreme nervousness, anemia, headaches, decreased liver and kidney function, memory loss, speech problems, softening of the bones, and aching muscles can all be caused by aluminum toxicity.

 

Aluminum is excreted by the kidneys; therefore toxic amounts can impair kidney function. Aluminum can also accumulate in the brain causing seizures and reduced mental alertness. The brain is normally protected by a blood-brain barrier, which filters the blood before it reaches it. Elemental aluminum does not pass easily through this barrier, but certain compounds contained within aluminum, such as aluminum fluoride do. Interestingly, many municipal water supplies are treated with both aluminum sulfate and aluminum fluoride. These two chemicals can also combine easily in the blood. Aluminum fluoride is also poorly excreted in the urine.

 

When there is a high level of absorption of aluminum and silicon, the combination can result in an accumulation of certain compounds in the cerebral cortex and can prevent nerve impulses being carried to and from the brain properly. Long term calcium deficiency can further aggravate the condition. Workers in aluminum smelting plants on a long term basis have been known to experience dizziness, poor coordination, balance problems and tiredness. It has been claimed that the accumulation of aluminum in the brain could be a possible cause for these issues.

It is estimated that the normal person takes in between 3 and 10 milligrams of aluminum per day. Aluminum is the most abundant metallic element produced by the earth. It can be absorbed into the body through the digestive tract, the lungs and the skin, and is also absorbed by and accumulates in the bodies tissues. Aluminum is found naturally in our air, water and soil. It is also used in the process of making cooking pots and pans, utensils and foil. Other items such as over the counter pain killers, anti-inflammatory products, and douche preparations can also contain aluminum. Aluminum is also an additive in most baking powders, is used in food processing, and is present in antiperspirants, toothpaste, dental amalgams, bleached flour, grated cheese, table salt, and beer, (especially when the beer is in aluminum cans). The biggest source of aluminum, however, comes from our municipal water supplies. Excessive use of antacids is also a common cause of aluminum toxicity, especially for those who have kidney problems. Many antacids contain amounts of aluminum hydroxide that may be too much for the kidneys to handle properly.

 

Here one may ask as to what we can do to prevent aluminum toxicity from happening to ourselves and our families.

1. Eat a diet that is high in fiber and includes apple pectin.
2. Use stainless steel, glass, or iron cookware. Stainless steel is the best choice.
3. Beware of any product containing aluminum or dihydroxyaluminum.
4. A hair analysis can be used to determine levels of aluminum in the body.
5. Research has shown that the longer you cook food in aluminum pots, the more they corrode, and the more aluminum is absorbed into the food and hence into the body. Aluminum is more readily dissolved by acid forming foods, such as coffee, cheese, meat, black and green tea, cabbage, cucumbers, tomatoes, turnips, spinach and radishes.

6. Acid rain leeches aluminum out of the soil and into drinking water.

 
Whereas smells of some new fragrant chemicals, kept in cars bring happiness to the users and people like it so much, that the manufacturers have even come out with an “air freshener”, which harnesses its scent, but consumers don’t even know what they are inhaling. They rarely know that the new car scent is a mixture of VOC’s (volatile organic compounds) that are off-gassing from the plastics inside. Just about everything inside a car is made from fabric or plastic; which is held together by some sort of adhesive these items off-gas or out-gas as some would say, are a big non-visible but highly odorous cloud of VOC’s.

Volatile Organic Compounds are a combination of gases that are emitted into the air. Individually these gases may not pose such a health risk, but collectively and cumulatively they can cause headaches, nausea, and sore throats. Many of the symptoms of “Sick Building Syndrome” can be linked to high levels of VOC’s inside a structure. Most commonly in paint, carpets, cleaning supplies, car exhaust fumes, upholstery, adhesives, and all sorts of plastics. Even the new car scent that is so adored is the off-gassing of the PVC (polyvinyl chloride). When we open the plastic packaging of our new shower curtain, that smells too, it is the off-gassing of the PVC.

PVC plastic or vinyl is one of the worst environmental and health offenders, yet it’s the most widely used material. What makes this plastic so abhorred is the highly toxic chemical it creates and releases called dioxin. PVC is also difficult to recycle and hence much of it ends up in our landfills; but perhaps the greatest danger of PVC is the phthalates that are added to it to make it softer and more pliable. Children’s toys use the soft version of this PVC. The phthalates are well known endocrine disruptors that can cause harm to the reproductive system of both males and females.

Fortunately, the knowledge that PVC is dangerous is spreading rapidly. It has hit the corporate mainstream and the companies dealing with production of PVC have begun to phase it out of their products. Consumers are not only waking up to the dangers of PVC but also are putting the pressure on other companies to begin the phase-out process as well. One of the best ways we can do as individuals is to educate our friends and through them the society and its friends, the NGOs, about this top most and other environmental issues. Besides we must remember that the only way to stop PVC from getting into our homes is to cut it off at its source and that’s with you, me and we all both individually and collectively.

 

 


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