Asbestos, the Silent Silent-Killer of the July 2006 War

Taken by Gino Raidy in Chekka, North Lebanon of an abandoned factory where asbestos was used for pipes

Asbestos is a group of minerals that have ‘miracle-like’ properties, hence their name in greek (miracle mineral). It has been widely used in construction for insulation purposes. The diverse group of minerals may be found in almost every house and building around us. From insulation of pipes and water heaters, to roof tiles, floorboards and indoor plumbing, asbestos is an everyday carcinogen which is now banned in most countries, including Lebanon.

Asbestos materials have the following advantages:

  • Heat-resistant
  • Electricity-resistant
  • Sound-absorbing
  • Tensile strength (can be stretched out into thin fibers without breaking)
  • Flexibility
  • Resistant to Chemical erosion
These properties come from the asbestos family’s distinctive bundles of mineral fibers, that can be separated and used as thin strings of formidable material.
It has been well-documented that asbestos is a potent carcinogen, upping chances of lung cancer considerably, and promoting mesothelioma, a rare cancer that affects the membrane that surrounds chest and abdominal cavities. The reason asbestos is so harmful is because if inhaled, they tend to persist in the lungs for very long periods of time, with chronic inflammation and lung diseases as well as cancers the eventual result upon continued exposure to the carcinogenic fibers, which are 1200 thinner than a human hair.
Fortunately for mankind though, asbestos, if left intact and undisturbed (i.e. flies as dust into the air we breathe) is virtually harmless. Unfortunately for the Lebanese though, the July 2006 War sent millions of tons of asbestos fibers into the atmosphere which will not be immediately understood and assessed, but whose devastating effects will be felt decades and generations later.