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Asbestos exposure outdoors - worried


A few years ago I had my garage roof taken down by builders who were rebuilding the garage. They were corrugated white asbestos sheets and they stacked them in my garden.

I rang the local council who said to put them in double bags and bring them to their waste tip where they would dispose of them. The next day without thinking too much about it, I started breaking the sheets up (outside in the garden) - having read much more about asbestos since, I realise this was an inappropriate thing to do.

As I didn't have a face mask on, I am concerned about how much I may have been exposed to the asbestos. It took about three hours (on and off with breaks) to bag the sheets - could you shed any light on the risk level? I assume that being outdoors would minimise the risk as any fibres would be dispersed quickly?


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242588 tn?1224271700
It is not possible, given the circumstances of your exposure, to provide a quantitative estimate of your exposure but, unless you were tearing and ripping in a fashion to fill the air with visible fibers, it is unlikely that you have or will experience any adverse effects from that exposure.  In addition, quantification of the exposure would not provide the most important information and that is, changes likely to be attributable to asbestos on chest X-ray and pulmonary function testing.  I have also included information from Mason’s Textbook on Pulmonary Disease that addresses these topics.

I suggest that you arrange to see a lung specialist in consultation for evaluation of your lungs.  Ideally, such a specialist should have been trained in both Pulmonary Disease and Environmental/Occupational Medicine.  Further guidance could almost certainly be provided by your state Public Health Department.  In that context, I am surprised that your local “council” recommended that you bag the asbestos and secondly, did not recommend that you wear a protective mask while handling it.

Acute, intense exposures have rarely been associated with pulmonary asbestosis and with an increased incidence of certain tumors, such as mesothelioma, that not uncommonly arise following a chronic exposure.  A brief literature review suggests that the claim, that white asbestos may be safe, is not valid.  The following two abstracts provide additional information on that topic.

Progression of disease caused by asbestos is uniformly very slow, changes not infrequently undetectable for twenty years or more after exposure.

More information follows,
Good luck

Abstract #1
Authors Full NameTweedale, Geoffrey. McCulloch, Jock.
InstitutionCentre for Business History, Manchester Metropolitan University Business School, Aytoun Street, Manchester MI 3GH, United Kingdom.
TitleChrysophiles versus chrysophobes: the white asbestos controversy, 1950s-2004.
SourceIsis. 95(2):239-59, 2004 Jun.
AbstractIn the first half of the twentieth century, asbestos was a controversial mineral because of its association with asbestosis and asbestos-related lung cancer. It has proved no less so since the 1960s, when another asbestos cancer, mesothelioma, was identified. Mesothelioma appeared to be more strongly linked with blue asbestos (crocidolite) than with the other asbestos varieties, brown (amosite) and white (chrysotile). This finding triggered a fierce debate between "chrysophiles" (those who declared chrysotile innocuous) and "chrysophobes" (those who believed it was a mortal hazard). This essay attempts the first history of the chrysotile controversy, which shows that a scientific consensus on the safety of white asbestos was very slow to emerge. This was only partly due to the complexities of scientific research. Political, economic, and social factors have militated against a speedy resolution of the debate, facilitating the continued production and use of asbestos in the developing world.
Publication TypeHistorical Article. Journal Article.

Abstract #2
Authors Full NameKazan-Allen, Laurie.
InstitutionEuropean Centre of Occupational Health, Safety and the Environment, University of Glasgow, Scottland. ***@****
TitleThe asbestos war. [Review] [60 refs]
SourceInternational Journal of Occupational & Environmental Health. 9(3):173-93, 2003 Jul-Sep.
AbstractThat asbestos is still being sold despite overwhelming evidence linking it to debilitating and fatal diseases is testament to the effectiveness of a campaign, spear-headed by Canadian interests, to promote a product already banned in many developed countries. Blessed by government and commercial support, asbestos apologists have implemented a long-term coordinated strategy targeting new consumers in Asia, the Far East and Latin America. At industry-backed "conferences" and on government-funded junkets, they spin a web of deceit, telling all who will listen that "chrysotile (white asbestos) can be used safely." The fact that Canada exports over 95% of all the chrysotile it mines suggests that while chrysotile is supposedly safe enough for foreigners, it is not safe enough for Canadians. Asbestos victims in many countries have struggled to gain public recognition of the human cost of asbestos use. In recent years, nongovernmental organizations working with these groups have created a global anti-asbestos virtual network; with the commitment and support of thousands of "virtual members," this network challenges industry's propaganda and exposes the forces that support its cynical attempt to offload this dangerous substance on developing countries. [References: 60]

Information from Mason’s Textbook on Pulmonary Disease:

Radiographic Features
The posteroanterior chest radiograph remains a key tool in the initial clinical diagnosis of asbestosis, and in the health surveillance of exposed workers.[6] The ILO classification[5] uses the term small irregular opacities to describe the irregular linear shadows that develop in the lung parenchyma and obscure the normal bronchovascular arborization pattern seen in disease-free lungs. The parenchymal opacities are usually seen first in the lower lateral zones between the rib shadows. As their profusion increases, the borders of the heart are obscured. Small rounded opacities are unusual when the exposure has been primarily to fibers but are more likely to be seen in workers who also have had silica exposure (e.g., asbestos cement workers).[1][24]

Early fibrotic changes are better visualized by HRCT with supplementary prone images,[6] particularly for subpleural parenchymal changes that may be obscured by overlying pleural fibrosis on the chest radiograph.[144] Visceral pleural thickening of the interlobar fissures is common.[127] Changes in the parietal pleura (see later) are also common, and the presence of pleural plaques (particularly if they are bilateral) or of pleural thickening provides additional evidence that the parenchymal disease is asbestos related. Hilar node enlargement is not a feature of asbestosis, and PMF lesions, including rheumatoid pneumoconiosis, are less common than in workers exposed to coal or silica. The radiologic features of well-developed disease seldom present a diagnostic problem; interpretation of the less marked changes is much more subjective, and hence the use of ILO films and of HRCT are proportionately more valuable.[6][144][145] The CT scan is also useful in characterizing localized pleuropulmonary lesions, including rounded atelectasis, which must be distinguished from lung cancer because it presents as a solid localized lesion. HRCT can also identify coexisting lung disease such as emphysema and distinguish subpleural fat from pleural thickening and plaques.[6]

Lung Function
Established asbestosis is often but certainly not always associated with a restrictive lung function profile (see Chapter 24 ).[125] With less advanced radiologic disease, FVC and diffusing capacity are reduced, and reduction in flow at low lung volumes (maximal midexpiratory flow) is a common finding in keeping with small airway abnormality.[43][127] In studies of exposed populations, a substantial proportion of patients (up to half in some series)[12] exhibit a mixed or obstructive function profile in keeping with the parallel development of airway and parenchymal effects of working in dusty occupations contaminated by mineral dusts.[87] When repeated lung function tests are used to assess evolution of disease, simple volume measurements such as FVC appear to be the most useful.[12][109][146]

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Avatar universal

Thanks for the detailed response and references - I should have mentioned that I live in the UK and it is common practice for City councils to accept resedential asbestos if it is 'double bagged' at their local waste facility. I guess they assume that no one would be daft enough to break it up without wearing a mask!

There were no visible fibres in the air - although it was a while ago, I remember the sheets (there were 6 of them about 2 feet x 5 feet) were quite damp as well and I was working about 2 feet above the sheets which were on the ground.

I think I mis-worded my original question - risk level is difficult to quantify as there seem to be a lot of factors involved. I think my intention with the question was more to ask if a short, single exposure incident such as this is should case me sleepless nights.


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