Agriculture and Asbestos Safety

asbestos danger signWhile the April 2019 Final Rule established by the EPA was a large leap into the protection of U.S. citizens from asbestos, it has not completely annihilated the threat. The Final Rule, put simply, was created to protect the public from uses of asbestos that are “no longer on the market and are not covered under any other laws or regulations.” It added a few more asbestos banned products to the list as well as prohibited some other new uses of asbestos. 

In light of these relatively new changes that have occurred over the past few decades, farmers and agricultural workers may be wondering what these changes have to do with them; even more concerning could be the lack of knowledge throughout the public sphere of the nature of asbestos, what it does, and why there have been seven different regulations created or amended around the mineral since 1973.

Here are some questions and answers to consider:

What Does Asbestos Have to Do With Agriculture?

Individuals must first have a foundation of knowledge on what asbestos actually is. In essence, asbestos is a fibrous mineral that occurs in soil and rock. When mined and used properly, it acts as what is known to be the “miracle mineral” because of its resistance to heat and electricity, and its sound proofing abilities. It has been mined all over the world and was widely used in the late 20th century in many commercial and consumer products, including makeup and construction materials. 

Agricultural materials and machinery that may be impacted include:

  • Brakes, brake pads, brake linings
  • Insulation
  • Gaskets, valves, seals, clutches, engine parts
  • Other mechanical components that are submitted to high heat and friction
  • Barn/storage buildings (roof, shingles, walls, flooring)

This means that almost all agricultural workers could be exposed to asbestos, such as:

  • Dairy Farmers
  • Poultry Farmers
  • Ranchers
  • Farmhands
  • Sharecroppers
  • Sheep, goat and cattle, vegetable, and market farmers
  • Agricultural equipment mechanics and operators

How Asbestos Impacts the Lives of Workers

While asbestos may be a “miracle mineral,” it is not so miraculous to a person’s health. Asbestos fibers can become airborne easily. This occurs when submitted to high heat and friction, cracks in the foundational aspects of buildings, and with any type of wear to asbestos based products. Once released, the risk of inhalation from workers is high, exposing the lungs and other internal organs.

As the mineral enters the respiratory system, it clings to the lining of the victim’s lungs, and embeds itself. Once embedded, it cannot be removed because the particles are invisible to the naked eye and the immune system cannot break them down. Over time (sometimes decades), the lungs will become inflamed and begin to scar. Once that occurs, the individual could contract a rare form of lung cancer that is only known among those exposed to asbestos, called mesothelioma. Like many types of cancers, there are various forms but all have a poor prognosis, making treatment extremely difficult.

Because of these health hazards, agricultural workers should be extremely cautious with their products, machinery and buildings. Be weary of cracks in the walls and linings of barns, when replacing brakes and when handling insulation of any kind.

Handling Asbestos Based Products

Workers should not handle the removal of asbestos on their own. In fact, not only does the U.S. government have various rules and regulations on how to handle asbestos, but many states have even stricter guidelines to prevent unneeded exposure. Be aware of the procedures set in place to handle asbestos, because otherwise, workers and loved ones could become easily exposed, putting their health at risk.

General guidelines to follow when handling asbestos:

Receive an asbestos inspection. Before any renovation projects take place, hire an inspector to determine if asbestos is present. Without the inspection, workers may not know whether they are exposed to the fibers.

Locate an asbestos abatement contractor. Because of the strict laws both nationally and state-wide, it may be wise to hire a contractor that has been educated on them. They will know how to handle the asbestos, where to store it, how to extract it and dispose of it.

Though asbestos is common among many products, it has dwindled in usage. Many companies today are either cutting back on its inclusion in their products, or they have completely eliminated it. No matter the concern, if an agricultural worker has been exposed to asbestos, they should see a physician immediately to address proper treatment and future actions.  

Article submitted by the Mesothelioma & Asbestos Awareness Center