Asbestos is the name given to a number of naturally occurring, fibrous silicate minerals mined for their useful properties such as thermal insulation, chemical and thermal stability, and high tensile strength. Many products in use today contain asbestos, according to the Environmental Protection Agency. Asbestos is a fiber that was once widely used hundreds of building industrial, commercial and housing products and is still present in millions of U.S. workplaces and homes.
Even though Dubai and the UAE passed a law in 2006 banning the sale of sheets of asbestos, it is estimated that between 70 and 80 percent of homes in Dubai, especially the one built before that date, contain some asbestos (source: Khaleej Times).
Asbestos is commonly used in the home as an acoustic insulator, and in thermal insulation, fire proofing and other building materials, and in particular it was used for:
- Cement roofing and siding shingles
- House Insulation
- Textured paint and in patching compounds used on wall and ceiling joints
- Artificial ashes and embers sold for use in gas-fired fireplaces
- Older products such as stove-top pads
- Walls and floors around wood burning stoves may be protected with asbestos paper, millboard, or cement sheets
- Some vinyl floor tiles, and the backing on vinyl sheet flooring and adhesives
As noted by the National Safety Council, Asbestos is commonly found also in the garage, as brakes, clutches and other car parts were once built with asbestos-containing products. Individuals who work on their vehicles in their home garage may be at risk for inhaling asbestos fibers. It is not possible to determine whether brake or clutch components contain asbestos simply by looking at them, but some vehicles and parts may contain labels indicating whether those components contain asbestos.
The Occupational Safety and Health Administration states that mechanics should assume all brakes have asbestos-type shoes. For most mechanics, instead of blowing dust out when working on brakes and clutches, using a wet cloth to remove the dust should be an effective method for preventing asbestos fibers from becoming airborne.
Exposure to asbestos may bring risk of malignant mesothelioma. Malignant mesothelioma is an aggressive cancer of the lining of the lungs or abdomen. Each year, men and women will develop this deadly disease. About 3,000 Americans are diagnosed with this cancer each year, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. It invades the protective lining that surrounds many of the body’s internal organs. The cancer is caused by exposure to asbestos. When asbestos fibers are inhaled or ingested, the body is unable to break them down or expel them. Those fibers remain in the body causing scarring and damaging sensitive tissues. That damage eventually leads to cancer or another asbestos-related disease. There is no cure.
Many families in the UAE are probably living with hazardous asbestos.
While the roofs were built before the nation’s ban on the material came into force 9 years ago, workers appear not to be following the regulations for its removal, putting their own health and that of residents at risk. When disturbed, tiny fibres become airborne and can penetrate deep into people’s lungs.
Removing the material should be carried out using techniques that minimise the chances of fibres becoming airborne. But some of the old roofing was seen crushed and mixed with other building waste, scooped up by an excavator, the operator of which was not wearing a mask. A bed had been set up next to a heap of crushed asbestos.
Asbestos must carried out by a specialist asbestos removal contractor, who has trained and competent staff, experience in safe asbestos removal, control measures and appropriate personal and respiratory protective equipment.