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The risks of asbestos

The history of asbestos:

  To be able to speak about the risks of asbestos, it is necessary above all, to make a small history of the use of asbestos in the History.


  It was found pots reinforced with asbestos dating from antiquity , it was also used in textiles , especially in tablecloth that was cleaned with fire (writings of the time of Charlemagne explains how he showed his guests the cleaning these tablecloths to impress them).

  However, until the industrial era, its use was anecdotal.

  From this era , large mines were discovered and the textile industry seized the exploitation of this mineral to flood the market with asbestos which was called at the time "the miracle product" .

  It was in 1899 that an English doctor had doubts about the use of asbestos and certain pulmonary diseases. At the beginning of the 20th century, reports from occupational physicians converged on this conclusion (notably thanks to the Report of the labor inspector Auribault in 1906).

  The first regulations for the protection of workers appeared in 1931 in the United Kingdom .

  In France , asbestosis was treated as an occupational disease from 1945 . From 1975 , in France, asbestos was gradually abandoned and then completely banned.

  Its complete ban was announced in 1996 with the effective date 07/01/1997. However, rare exceptions still exist today in certain professional branches where no other material is as efficient.

The risks :

  The risks linked to asbestos are often in a professional environment with the handling or the atmospheric exposure of proximity (for example: false ceiling in offices sometimes very friable because of strong draft).

In fact, exposure at home is often less, mainly due to the difference in the type of material used in individuals (for example: asbestos-cement), which are mainly materials that can be described as hard and difficult to disaggregate.

  For information, the share of asbestos in asbestos cement is between 5 and 10%, compared to a flocking where the share is 100% more this flocking is very friable, which makes it much more dangerous. This is not to say that asbestos cement is not dangerous, any fiber absorbed by the body can be dangerous.

Asbestos-related diseases:

  Not all asbestos-related diseases are cancers. I'm going to separate non-cancerous diseases from cancerous diseases.

  The size of the fibers is decisive, since:

     - more a particle is, the more it can penetrate deeper into the respiratory system,

     - more the fibers are long and thin, the more the body has difficulty eliminating them, and therefore they are dangerous.

  Non-cancer diseases:

     - Pleural or pericardial damage : thickening of the pleural plaque (envelope around the lungs) or of the pericardium (envelope around the heart) which can promote cancer over time. This thickening is asymptomatic, it is often called "exposure marker", this ensures exposure to asbestos.

     - The effusion of liquids : can remove respiratory capacity.

     - Asbestosis : it is a pulmonary fibrosis. The risk of Asbestosis and its severity depend on the level and duration of exposure, generally between 10 and 20 years. The higher the exposure, the shorter the time to onset of the disease. No effective treatment to date, it can progress to pulmonary insufficiency and promote bronco-pulmonary cancer.

  Concurrent diseases:

     - Bronco-pulmonary cancer: exposure to asbestos increases the risk by 5 of having lung cancer. Please note, if you are a smoker, this risk is increased to 50 times more risk. If you are in naturally asbestos-producing regions like Corsica or New Caledonia, this risk is multiplied by 10 so it is 50 to 500 times more risky.

     - Mesothelioma: it is cancer of the pleura (envelope of the lungs). We talk about asbestos cancer, that is, it is exclusively linked to exposure to asbestos. It can occur several decades before its diagnosis. It is generally fatal within a few months and no treatment has proven effective. It is recognized as an occupational disease.

     - Other cancers: other cancers seem to be linked to exposure to asbestos, cancer of the larynx and ovaries (confirmed in 2009) and colorectal, pharynx and stomach cancer (nothing has been proven for these last ones).

Additional information site:

          Site de l'INRS : information sur l'amiante

Dossier Amiante

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