Risks of Asbestos Usage

Introduction

This paper discusses the two perspectives in assessing the risks of using asbestos. A vital part of the paper is the formulation of implementing plans for regulating the impact of asbestos substances that are contained in the business establishments. It is a known fact that asbestos materials are indeed useful for construction, as these substances typically constitute components of numerous physical structures. However, their usefulness is contradicted with its harm to the people and the environment. In dealing with its harmful impact, various implementing plans should be exhausted to mitigate the adverse effects of asbestos. As a general principle to be followed by industries and government institutions, the precautionary principle and the risk assessment from the public are the two perspectives considered in this paper.

In the first part of the paper, the case study is presented. This part expounds on the risks involved in using asbestos. This is highly necessary in selecting the best approach in risk assessment. Basically, risk analysis must include all the precautions needed to ensure the safety for the population. Meanwhile, it is not enough for scientific studies conducted to merely make a conclusion that a technology or product is safe. The limitations of the risk analysis should not be ignored by the decision makers because they make create certain harm to the population.

The philosophical implications of the two approaches are applied to a particular situation, which is the usage of asbestos in a working environment. The pros and cons of the two perspectives are discussed through the said case to ascertain their effectiveness in risk assessment. At the end, it is concluded on which of the two is more effective and recommended.

The Case Study: Asbestos

The chosen case for analysis is the usage of asbestos in the workplace. Asbestos materials are present in numerous domestic and industrial processes such as paper milling, extraction of fossil fuels, chlorine production, and the like. However, such substances are not supposed to degrade the environment if not too concentrated. In other words, too much concentration of asbestos materials in the working environment, especially if not properly disposed as an unused material can bring severe damages to the people. Obviously, the industry is not yet prepared to take away the asbestos as a main component in designing physical structures. Asbestos is still necessary for floorings, roof construction and walls of buildings for structural integrity.

In addition, most manufacturing industries are using asbestos and other materials that gravely pollute the air. The necessity to use such materials seems quite unavoidable. Consequently, if these materials were not used, the productivity of the company would be affected. In the end, the profitability of the process would decrease. This is the dilemma of many   companies. They are stuck in the middle of earning profit and protecting the environment. This is a choice that is hard to deal with when business interest is at stake. This is why the best option would be to search for ways to mitigate its adverse impacts to the people, for example, through choosing a proper risk assessment technique.

Risks of Asbestos from the Perspective of the Experts

It is important to note that risks do not just involve calculating the quantity of damage but also increasing risks awareness among the people (Riesch and Reiner, 2010). This is why facts gathered by the experts about asbestos should be disseminated to the public. According to the experts, asbestos materials can cause lung diseases. This has been proven by a survey conducted by the Health and Safety Executive in work places that have asbestos materials. It was stated that in UK, almost 10% of men died of mesothelioma. The cases related to such disease that was mainly caused by exposure to asbestos are expected to increase in the future especially in UK. Interestingly, mesothelioma is cancer that is caused by the intrusion of the asbestos substances into the lung of the patient. This disease becomes apparent after 40 years when the patient is exposed to asbestos (Agius, 2007).

The risk from asbestos has been calculated by the experts, and it was accounted that the adverse impacts of exposure to asbestos during 40 hrs/week are noticeable after 20 years. In another calculation, if the person is exposed for 10 years, the death risk is quite high. It was detected that asbestos is contained in the materials of the buildings, sometimes furniture and other physical structures that surround people in the workplace (Agius, 2007).

Risks of Asbestos from the Perspective of the Public

According to Sjöberg (2006), the community usually reacts negatively to any new technology or product introduced to the market. This is true in asbestos because from the public assessment, asbestos is viewed as harmful. However, the public is more tolerant on the impacts of asbestos based on its assessment as compared with the experts. This is why workers are still not well informed that the harmful effects of asbestos are actually caused by inhaling the dust with such substances that are circulating in the workplace area where workers are regularly exposed. The problem with this is that the workers are not normally aware of such a risky condition because of their lack of strict systematic analysis (Chyc-Cies, 2008).

According to the public assessment, there is a possibility of recycling the asbestos, which, in fact, has many benefits from this perspective. For one thing, the process would inevitably reduce both existing and future problems of having landfills just to regulate asbestos. Asbestos materials can be recycled to be used for physical structures, which would not add any such materials to the environment. The amount of such materials should not increase anymore to avoid further degrading the air. Subsequently, recycling is one effective means in doing so (Joe Chyc-Cies, 2008).

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The next benefit of recycling is that it would remove the necessity for examining the required asbestos that every physical structure contains. In this sense, the amount of asbestos is already measured if asbestos materials are recycled. This would also distinguish the pavements with and without asbestos. Lastly, recycling of asbestos would decrease the expenses in the segregation of materials that have asbestos from those without it (Chyc-Cies, 2008).

Simply put, it has been common in the public perception that asbestos can be managed by recycling it. There is no need to be alarmed about the effects of asbestos on human health, and it can still be used in buildings as long as it stays within the limited amount. This notion is the result of the long years of experience of companies using asbestos in their establishments.

A Comparison of Two Perspectives

Surprisingly, the perception of lay people and the experts’ judgement on risks is not that strong according to Wright et al (2002). On the contrary, from the experts’ perspective, there are scientific means to assess the risks involved in asbestos usage. One of the most commonly applied is the precautionary principle. It states that in case of a potential harm one must implement precaution immediately.  When harm is impending, preventive measures should be done. It is viewed as a genuine care for life and natural environment (Myers, 2000).

Moreover, the principle is persuading the companies to pay closer attention to the outcomes of any technological development to avoid uncertainty and false conclusions.  It also redirects our attention from a purely scientific point of view into more humane and environmental concerns. Most importantly, the precautionary principle is in accordance with the democratic process. Indeed, introducing new technology should go through a consultative process.

The mentioned principle should be implemented as a sound basis for risk analysis. To reiterate, it is not about the actual procedure. It is not about developing new technology as well. It is about protecting the environment and health conditions.  Although risk analysis is already a viable and reliable procedure, it would become more safe and humane if precautionary principle became its basis. In addition, risks produced by technology and products harmful to environment could be totally avoided if the three cores of precautionary principle were strongly imbibed in the risk assessment (Raffensperger and Barrett, 2001). The analysis should include scanning all potential harms created by certain human endeavor. If there is any potential outcome, precautionary measures should be made ahead of time. In its turn, this paper agrees to the fact that long term potential harms should be detected. If there is a greater harm, the concern for the environment should be put ahead of profit or scientific objectives.

In addition, precautions should be made by the government and the companies when it comes to the use of asbestos. Prior to everything that has been said, the government and the companies should assess the air quality and the amount of asbestos that is present in the physical structures prior to its operation. Regular testing of the air quality is the responsibility of the company and the government. No industry should operate if the hazardous materials in the production process are seriously high. The welfare of the workers and the environment should be prioritized by the concerned authorities. Companies should not only focus on profit making since sustainability of any medium nowadays is dependent on the condition of its constituents.

Of course, if the materials are harmful, total elimination of their use in production is the most effective precaution. Since it is a fact that asbestos is useful for the construction of large physical structures, it would be difficult to absolutely reject its inclusion. However, it can still be regulated by sealing it with cements and tiles so that the release of pollutants would be avoided.

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The more unfortunate part of the issue is that the public perception can be manipulated by big companies through their false advertising that asbestos is not that harmful. This makes the usage of asbestos more prevalent. Indeed, there are many hazardous substances that can be inhaled by the workers and should, therefore, be properly regulated. Lung cancer, mesothelioma, and other related diseases can be acquired through the workers’ clothes and various harmful sources that may be present within company premises (Lung Association). 

In ensuring the safety of the workers, not only the air should be evaluated; an assessment of the water and food supply should also be done by the company and the government agencies. It is highly essential that all the necessary components in making the working environment safe should be in place. The risk should be evaluated by the proper authorities such as the EPA and the OSHA that utilize scientific means in risk analysis.

Conclusion

It can be concluded that the experts’ perspective should prevail in assessing the risks concomitant to using a hazardous material like asbestos. Certainly, the presence of asbestos within the machines or walls of the buildings causes certain diseases to the workers. The calculations made by the experts are more than enough to deduce that it is harmful to have asbestos in the working environment. Under the precautionary principle, any technology or product that has been proven to cause harm should be appropriately managed or totally eliminated. Particularly, potential harm is no longer an issue with regard to asbestos since the negative effects have already been identified. In contrast, public perspective usually lacks scientific basis and undergoes common fallacies.

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