Railways Phasing Out Asbestos- a Suspected Health Hazard (Important) (Download PDF)


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Broken-down asbestos roofs on railway stations were being replaced by metal sheets since June 2009. Asbestos sheet is manufactured from naturally occurring fibrous mineral has been an imp. construction material for India’s railways.

Image Railways Phasing out Asbestos-a Suspected Health Hazard

Image Railways Phasing Out Asbestos-a Suspected Health Hazard

Image Railways Phasing out Asbestos-a Suspected Health Hazard

Use of Asbestos in Railways

  • There are nearly 8000 railway stations in India have asbestos in their premises.
  • Sheets are made by bonding asbestos fibres w/cement. Product is used as roofing & partition material for stations, workshops & worker’s quarters. It is used as insulation material in places w/extreme weather.

Harms of Asbestos

  • Asbestos fibre can be dangerous.
  • If Fibre inhaled for long period of time, it can cause asbestosis, or scarring of lungs.
  • The material can cause pleural diseases, where there is change in lining of lungs.
  • Inhalation of fibre can cause cancer.
  • Everyone who comes in contact w/material can develop health problems. People w/other preconditions are more vulnerable.

Feature Plan or Railways for Asbestos Replacement

  • Plan to replace asbestos at railway stations w/metal, which was started decade ago.
  • Railways announced that all new railway stations will have metal sheet roofs.
  • Asbestos roofs at older stations will be phased out.
  • Metal sheets look appealing as they are pre-painted. They do not break; they only bend on impact while asbestos has to be painted after it is installed, and it can break.
  • Disposal of asbestos retrieved from railway will be tough task as material is used widely.
  • Asbestos products that are breaking down can release fibres in to air.
  • Railways have said that they will be using ‘scientific’ landfilling methods to dispose of asbestos waste.

What is Asbestos?

  • Asbestos is naturally occurring mineral.

  • Asbestos minerals are made up of fine, durable fibres and are resistant to heat, fire and many chemicals.

  • It is widely used in construction industry.

  • It has high applications in residential, commercial & industrial space.

  • Asbestos refers to group of 6 types of naturally occurring minerals.

  • Types of Asbestos Causing Pleural Mesothelioma include:

    • Serpentine asbestos

    • Amphibole asbestos

Serpentine Asbestos:

  • Serpentine asbestos refers to asbestos made up of long, curly fibers.

  • This category only includes one mineral, called chrysotile, also known as white asbestos.

Amphibole Asbestos:

  • Amphibole asbestos includes other 5 asbestos minerals: Amosite, crocidolite (also called blue asbestos), tremolite, actinolite & anthophyllite.

  • These minerals are composed of brittle, rod- or needle-shaped fibers.

  • Same characteristics usually make it bad candidate for use in commercial products.

  • 3 primary diseases associated w/asbestos exposure:

    • Asbestosis

    • Lung Cancer

    • Mesothelioma

Image of 3 types of asbestos

Image of 3 Types of Asbestos

Image of 3 types of asbestos

Advantages of Asbestos:

  • Asbestos is very good thermal insulator & increases energy efficiency of building.

  • It is highly resistant to fire & does not burn easily.

  • It forms very strong material when mixed w/cement & used as additive to form composite material called asbestos cement.

  • It is very inexpensive & very cost effective material, hence widely used.

  • It is extensively used as protective roofing material in corrugated form.

  • It is highly durable & weather proof.

  • It is resistant to damage from termites.

  • Asbestos is very easy to clean & maintain but difficult to repair.

Disadvantages of Asbestos:

  • Major disadvantage of using asbestos is that it is seriously hazardous to health.

  • Asbestos comprises of invisible micro particles which when released in the air can cause life threatening diseases if inhaled for continuous span of time.

  • Due to this major disadvantage new materials are being manufactured as replacement to asbestos.

Policy for Asbestos in India

  • Asbestos Cement Products Manufacturers Association (ACPMA) says that Asbestos as raw material is harmful. So, precautions have to be taken during manufacturing & packing.

    • In roofing sheets, asbestos fibre is bonded w/cement & cannot escape into air.

    • Concentration of asbestos fibre in Indian products is low – as little as 8%.

    • It is only certain types of fibres, used as insulation material, which are problematic.

    • The fibre is naturally occurring & products are claimed to be safe.

  • Ban Asbestos Network of India (BANI), group creating awareness about possible hazards of asbestos, are campaigning against use of asbestos.
  • The group said that health concerns about material have prompted countries to ban manufacture.

- Published/Last Modified on: July 18, 2018

Health, Env., Railways

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