Alternative Energies Phase Out Asbestos
There are many reasons to make a move from unsustainable fossil fuels to alternative and renewable energy sources like solar power and wind power. These are sustainable energy sources, while fossil fuels will eventually run out; there is the argument over climate change caused by fossil fuels; but what not many realize is that there is another important reason to turn to alternative energy sources: asbestos.
Asbestos is a harmful mineral that is not used now as often as it was in past decades, but which is still in use in a number of industries. Older homes are full of asbestos, as are many power plants and oil refineries. Asbestos exposure puts people at risk for serious illnesses, including malignant mesothelioma. The move toward alternative energy is leaving no room for asbestos, though, and that helps protect everyone.
Asbestos: A Brief History
Asbestos is a mineral that was used heavily in past decades in several industries. It can be mined from the ground and is made up of tiny fibers that easily break free from the larger mineral. Asbestos has unique properties that made it so popular in industries ranging from construction to oil production: it is lightweight, strong, fire-resistant, heat-resistant, and it resists most chemical reactions and electricity.
Asbestos was used in nearly all construction materials that went into homes and buildings prior to the late 1970s. These include insulation, roofing, flooring, adhesives, and more. Asbestos also went into ships, power plants, oil refineries, manufacturing plants of all types, fireproof clothing, and nearly any industry facility that required heat- and fire-proofing.
Unfortunately, it was eventually discovered that inhaling or consuming the fibers of asbestos could cause tissue damage and serious illness. Workers, homeowners, and even residents living near facilities using asbestos were all put at risk of inhaling these fibers and getting sick with asbestosis or the deadly cancer called mesothelioma. The tiny fibers of asbestos often break free and become part of the dust in the air and on surfaces. When someone inhales those fibers they lodge in tissues instead of passing through the body. Over time the fibers cause damage to cells that can lead to these serious diseases.
Asbestos and Fossil Fuels
Among the many reasons to push away from fossil fuels and toward alternative sources of energy is the fact that acquiring, processing, and using fossil fuels often involves asbestos. As more of the world abandons fossil fuels and embraces wind, solar, geothermal, and other green energies, the less room there is for asbestos. When alternative and renewable energy installations are constructed, there is no asbestos involved.
A traditional power plant that burns fossil fuels is just one example of an industrial facility that uses asbestos and puts workers and others at risk of exposure. Burning coal and other fossil fuels produces a lot of heat, and that means that power plants need insulation. Many power plants still in operation are loaded with asbestos to prevent heat from escaping and to prevent fires. Workers may also use fireproof gear that contains asbestos.
Oil refineries are large-scale facilities that process the oil that comes out of the ground, often the ocean floor, producing oil, petroleum, and gas. These facilities, like power plants, require insulation to prevent heat loss and fires. Many refineries in the U.S. were built at a time when asbestos was still used. The miles of pipes carrying oil are insulated with asbestos in many refineries, as are the roofing materials, flooring, and other parts of these buildings. Workers that have to maintain and repair them are often put at risk of being exposed to asbestos.
Mining coal is a dangerous job in many ways. Explosions, mine collapses, and inhalation of dangerous gases are all possible in a coal mine and put workers at risk. These workers also face the dangers of asbestos exposure. Asbestos may be a part of the equipment used in coal mining, but it is also potentially a contaminant in mines. There are many natural deposits of asbestos throughout the world and these put miners at risk of exposing the mineral and accidentally inhaling the fibers.
It isn’t just the workers in the fossil fuel industry that are at risk of asbestos exposure; residents living near these facilities are also at risk. Asbestos, when not properly contained, can contaminate the air, soil, and water around mines, refineries, and power plants. Residents may end up with asbestos in the air they breathe and the water they drink, putting them at risk for mesothelioma and other illnesses.
Green Homes with Alternative Energy Eliminate Asbestos
More people are turning to alternative energy sources and green materials for their homes and this means that asbestos is being pushed out of homes, making them much safer. For example, traditional roofing materials often contain asbestos to insulate the home and protect against fire. Replacing these materials with solar panels not only provides an alternative energy source, but also removes any traces of asbestos roofing in the process.
Insulation is also crucial in homes and other businesses, for making them green. Insulation helps keep heat in or out, depending on the season, and reduces the need to rely on heating or cooling. In the past, a lot of insulation included asbestos, but homeowners are beginning to replace that harmful insulation with more sustainable, less toxic materials that insulate just as well, if not better. These include polyurethane foams and even cotton from recycled clothing.
Homeowners interested in using alternative energy sources like solar panels or geothermal heating, are also often interested in removing toxic chemicals from the home. Asbestos abatement is an important part of this process. Professionals trained in removing and containing asbestos can help homeowners make their homes safer and less toxic.
Turning to alternative sources of energy is an important trend and one that will have many consequences, mostly positive. While some people fear the loss of jobs that comes with no longer relying on fossil fuels, the benefits largely outweigh the downsides. Eliminating asbestos from our lives is one of those important benefits. Thousands of people have died because of being around asbestos, many in a painful death caused by mesothelioma. With more alternative energy and fewer coal mines, traditional power plants, oil refineries, and old building materials in homes, we will all be safer from the harm caused by asbestos.
Page edited by Dave Foster
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