The discovery of a toxic metal found in the lining of the air and water in the US has exposed the dangers posed by asbestos, a leading health organisation said.
Asbestos looks a lot more like asbestos than previously thought and the risk of exposure to this dangerous material is much higher than previously realised, according to the American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE).
Asbestos is a type of mineral, commonly known as talc, that is often found in tin, asbestos, and gypsum.
It is often used in construction, building materials, furniture, and other household items.
However, it can also be found in other types of asbestos, such as gypsums, and can be toxic to people and animals.
It can cause skin cancer, as well as skin infections and death.
“While there is no specific method to assess the asbestos exposure, the ASCE estimates that as much as 70 percent of the population in the United States and Canada has been exposed to asbestos,” said ASCE director of environmental health Dr Sarah Shipp.
“The risk is even higher in low-income communities, where asbestos has been used for decades and still continues to be a problem.”
Dr Shipp said asbestos was “a major source of occupational lung disease, with some experts even saying as much 10 percent of people in the world are exposed to this mineral”.
She said some people with asbestos exposure were reluctant to admit it, but others were willing to admit their presence.
As a result, the asbestos industry in the UK is “an open secret”, and the industry was “likely to continue to grow in the years ahead”, Dr Ships said.
However Dr Shipt said there were “significant gaps” in the data, and there were many factors that contributed to the increasing exposure.
“It’s important that we understand the health impacts of asbestos in the public domain,” she said.
“For instance, the vast majority of people are unaware of asbestos exposure.
There are significant gaps in the health data, including a lack of research on the health consequences of asbestos and the extent to which asbestos-containing materials can cause respiratory and other health problems.”
Asbestos can be found on the outside of furniture, walls, and ceiling tiles, as a result of the manufacturing process.
Dr Ship said that in terms of the number of people exposed, “it is an open secret that the industry is an extremely profitable industry in which asbestos is one of the major components”.
The ASCE said there had been a “significant increase in the amount of asbestos material found in homes” in recent years.
However this had not been shown to have increased the overall risk of occupational exposure.
ASCE spokesman David Gant said: “In the United Kingdom, asbestos production in 2012 was estimated to have doubled to 1,924,000 tonnes, with the remaining 1,079,000 in use as structural fibre.”
The ASCHE recommends asbestos be removed from buildings and workplaces “as soon as possible, when asbestos levels are lower than the acceptable level”.
In addition, “avoiding asbestos-related building materials” and “dealing with asbestos-based dust in homes and workplaces”.
“A significant proportion of asbestos-exposed buildings and homes have been built since the early 1990s, so this is not just an industry-wide problem,” Dr Shitts said.
In 2012, the UK government announced it would phase out the use of asbestos.
As well as the health implications, it has also led to some “widespread scepticism” about the health benefits of asbestos removal, she said, with many people “ignoring” the risks.
Dr Gant also said the ASCHEs report was a “very positive step”.
“There are now clear standards for asbestos removal,” he said.
ASCHEF said it hoped the ASCES findings would be used by governments and the public “to support their decision to phase out asbestos use in the future”.
The group’s health chief, Dr Richard Jones, said the group had been “incredibly supportive of the ASCentres recommendations, and we are pleased to see the government and industry working towards a common approach”.
The Health Secretary, Andrew Lansley, said he was pleased the government had adopted ASCE’s recommendations.
“Asbestos is the single biggest public health issue facing the country and I am determined that we will bring the benefits of the clean-up of asbestos to every area of our life, including the NHS,” he wrote on Twitter.