Asbestos poisoning has triggered a real health crisis in recent years, but are we still at risk of poisoning from supermarket food? Discover if there is asbestos in your food, here…
Ever since the dangers of asbestos became public knowledge, governments and people across the world have put safeguards in place to avoid any further damage. That said, for many people, this was too little too late.
Now, cases of lung cancer caused by asbestos exposure, as well as mesothelioma and other cancers, are being reported more than ever. The question is, are we at risk of asbestos exposure anywhere else in our lives, namely through supermarket food?
In this article, we’ll be exploring what asbestos is, and how it can get into our system, causing us harm. We will then take a look at whether it has somehow gotten into our food sources, so you know exactly how you may be at risk. Take a look…
What is Asbestos?
Asbestos is a mineral found in the ground, which used to be a prominent material for construction purposes in the UK. Due to its strength, fire resistance, sound absorbency, cheapness and versatility, it emerged in the construction industry mainly during the industrial revolution. Then, due to its many benefits, it became widely utilised in almost all structures during the 1960s, 70s and 80s.
Not only was it used in wall and ceiling insulation, it was also part of cement, plaster, pipes, tiles, and spray coatings. It wasn’t just limited to construction though, and could also be found in car parts, packaging and fabrics.
After the health concerns surrounding asbestos became known, the UK and many other countries completely banned its use. That said, any buildings constructed pre-2000 will still contain this harmful substance.
Is Asbestos Dangerous?
Now we know what asbestos is and where it comes from, it’s time to discuss the reason behind it being banned in most countries. Ultimately, asbestos is very dangerous, and even minimal exposure to it can lead to fatal illnesses. These include:
- Lung cancer: inhalation of microscopic asbestos fibres has been linked to an increased risk of lung cancer. The greater the exposure to asbestos, the greater the risk, usually resulting in cancer symptoms 15 years after exposure.
- Mesothelioma: this is a rare form of cancer which affects the linings of the lung. The only known cause of this cancer is asbestos, and cases usually appear 30 years after exposure. This explains why we are seeing a growth in cases after asbestos use was banned.
- Other cancers: it’s also thought that asbestos exposure links with other types of cancers, including throat, gastrointestinal, larynx, stomach, colon, rectum, and even ovary cancer. Some of the links between asbestos and these cancers are stronger than others, but it’s clear to see that it’s never good, in any dosage.
Due to the many decades it can take for asbestos poisoning to show any effects on the body, the extent to which it has impacted our society is still unclear. However, we are beginning to see its true effects as the decades wear on.
How Does Asbestos Get into Our System?
We’ve taken a look at the ways in which asbestos can drastically affect our health, but we have to ask ourselves, how? Well, asbestos is dangerous when the particles are disturbed, meaning that any homes containing the substance are no risk unless renovations take place.
Disturbance might occur if a roof or pipe containing the particles is damaged, and these particles are released into the air. Once released, there are two main ways it can enter our bodies: inhalation and consumption. This might occur in a number of situations, including:
You most commonly hear stories of industrial workers being exposed to asbestos particles in the air during construction. Whether this be on a building site, or during the manufacturing process of these structural objects, it’s all the same. These particles will be directly inhaled into their lungs, or they may land in their food too, which is then consumed.
These particles may also land on builders’ clothing, which then ends up in their homes, to be inhaled by their families. This is known as secondary asbestos exposure, and is equally as dangerous.
As asbestos is found in the ground, it has to be mined to be of any use. For anyone mining in areas where asbestos is present, they are at risk of inhaling the dust. What’s more, anyone who lives and plays in an area with asbestos within the ground may also be at risk.
Asbestos in Food
We’ve already touched upon how construction workers may have swallowed asbestos fibres. If it ends up on skin or food, or in mucus or saliva, this can easily happen, causing more of the other types of cancer we listed above.
The Environmental Working Group have actually estimated that around 1,200 people a year die from gastrointestinal cancer due to asbestos exposure. This is because the robust nature of the digestive system causes asbestos to become permanently lodged there. It can be filtered out through the kidneys and rectum, but often leads to fatal illnesses.
Is There Asbestos in Food from the Supermarket?
As we’ve seen above, asbestos particles can make their way into food through consumption during asbestos handling. That said, considering asbestos comes from the ground, it wouldn’t be silly to assume that it naturally made its way into our food system. After all, food grows in the ground, so the plants and animals we eat may be exposed.
Because of this, some question whether asbestos is bioaccumulated within our eco-system, much like other toxic substances like radiation. This occurs when there is a build-up of toxins within plants and animals, which make their way up the food chain through each other. If this were the case, asbestos would surely end up in our supermarket food.
Certain chemicals do make it in up the food chain, thus threatening the health of humans. For example, we often hear how consuming too much fish may be dangerous for us due to potential mercury exposure. This is because it doesn’t break down naturally over time, and remains persistent within the chain, leading to potential problems.
Asbestos can accumulate in plants and animals. However, unlike other dangerous toxins, it does not accumulate on the same way. Instead of absorbing into the fat of animals, becoming part of their chemical structure, asbestos particles simply sit there.
This means that the microscopic fibres can only really be consumed if dust lands on the food. So, human beings cannot actually absorb asbestos in the way they might absorb mercury.
Are We at Risk of Asbestos Contamination?
As you can see, asbestos exposure is fatal, and is clearly something that we won’t see the end of until generations born before 2000 are long gone. Even now, some countries like the US still build using the substance, so it’s not over yet.
Despite its dangers, and peoples’ concerns about their exposure to asbestos now, you can rest easy that asbestos shouldn’t have made its way into your supermarket food. Ultimately, it is very unlikely that eating plants and meat that have been exposed to asbestos will lead to health problems.
So, keep eating and living as you would normally, and just be sure not to start knocking buildings down without precautions any time soon.