Wednesday, July 6, 2016

What is Asbestos?

Having often heard and read about some of the risks of property management, I often heard the phrase about people finding asbestos in the roof.  For the longest time, I had no clue on what asbestos is and always assumed that it was just some kind of fungus that grew on roofs and which was costly to remove or repair.

Lately, I did a little research on asbestos again and realised why it is such a huge concern.

What is Asbestos?

Asbestos is a naturally occurring mineral that is often used in buildings because of their desirable physical properties.  The use of asbestos became more common in the 19th century though there have been records of its use even during early history.  Amongst abestos desirable properties include its sound adsorption, affordability and its resistance to fire and heat.

Asbestos was/is used in a wide range of products from plaster, tiles, fire blankets, baby powder, thermal pipe insulation, etc.

What so dangerous about Asbestos?  

Studies have shown that asbestos is carcinogenic - cancer causing.  It causes malignant mesothelioma which is a cancerous tumour of the lung and chest cavity or lining of the abdomen. Asbestos exposure becomes dangerous when it is airborne due to deterioration or damage.  While building occupants can be in danger if they are exposed to it, those most at risk are often the people who disturb it - that is the construction or maintenance workers.  People working in housekeeping might also unknowingly come into contact with asbestos when cleaning things up.

However, with a long latent period between exposure and the first signs of cancer, most people who are exposed to it do not develop cancer until many years later. It is believed that just a small amount of exposure to asbestos will almost certainly lead to the development of malignant mesothelioma.

In Sept 11, 2001, when the World Trade Centre collapsed after the terrorist attacks, a large amount of asbestos was also believed to be released into the air.  Many people believe that the after-effects of this asbestos will probably kill more people compared to those who died on the actual day.  This probably also explains the high death rates (post Sept 11) of emergency workers who were working on site that fateful day.

The use of asbestos has been banned in many countries.  Unfortunately, most bans only came in place during the later part of the 20th century (and some only as recent as the 21st century) so many buildings that are still around were using asbestos.  The removal of asbestos is also highly regulated in most countries since it is a potential health hazard if not properly removed.


Analysts believe that the total cost of asbestos litigation in the US alone will reach over US$250billion.  It is currently one of the most expensive mass tort in US history as many individuals are now seeking attorneys to fight their case and make claims against negligent companies that might have exposed them to asbestos.

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