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.
The pulverizing of thousands of buildings and infrastructure components throughout Lebanon released the asbestos built into them in the form that is most harmful to humans: tiny nano-fibers. With exceptionally abrupt and massive release of the carcinogens into the air and our lungs, it is only a matter of time before the already high lung cancer rates in the country spike even further.
With no clear rules and regulations for compensation and prevention of such health-related disasters, and a defiant and irreverent Israeli atitude towards conventions already in place to protect civilians and respect human rights, and absence of proper studies and insightful investigations into the hard-to-foresee effects of war and its aftermath, the astounding blow this will have to our nation’s health will be largely overlooked till it’s too late. And even if it is not overlooked, we do not possess the means or the resources to solve this catastrophic carcinogen release into our supposedly fresh, Mediterranean breeze.

Comments

  1. DCA says

    It wasn’t just the war of 2006 that created the asbestos problem in Lebanon. All around Chekka, streets, homes, even planters containing beautiful flowers were made with asbestos fibers. Pleural Mesothelioma takes years to become symptomatic, even more than the time from the war in 2006 to now. If anything, the asbestos at Eternit and all around Chekka should have been cleaned up prior to 2006 to ensure others would not contract the deadly disease.

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