This is a product like any other, and it’s my right to use it, a product which is, after all, perfectly natural. As long as I’m not doing any harm to anyone else…well, OK, limited harm to anyone else, why shouldn’t I? I mean, my grandma lived to a hundred years old! All these health warnings, this panicking over every little thing. My parents generation – everyone did it! It was glamourous, sophisticated and considered normal. Have you seen Mad Men? That’s how it was in the 50s and 60s – everyone built with asbestos.
The cheeky thing about asbestos is that it can have the unfortunate side effect of rendering you dead. Unless of course your house is on fire, in which case the fumes from the burning lounge suite will probably get you first, but your castle will shine on matching the immortal radiance of that pair of concrete flamingos .
Asbestos can cause cancer. It can cause other things too, like emphysema and an unsightly, chalky ring around the lips after a meal. But here’s the intriguing thing: The risk of lung cancer from smoking and asbestos exposure is multiplicative. In other words, the combination of smoking and asbestos exposure is much more than those two risks added together. It’s thought that there’s something about the scarring of the lung tissue (caused by asbestosis) that interacts with the lung cancer that results in the higher risk. Interestingly, there is no relationship between mesothelioma (a type of lung cancer caused by asbestos) and smoking, other than it can take your mind off contracting regular smoking related lung cancer (and of course, make you look devastatingly glamourous as you near The End).
All that said, once you account for levels of exposure, the risk of developing lung cancer just from smoking alone is still WAY higher than the risk of developing cancer from asbestos exposure. This is why you can walk into Woolies and buy a square of blue asbestos with which to powder your nose. As long as you can get past those yukky pictures of diseased noses.
So how risky is asbestos? Well, highly contaminated environments, such as asbestos fibre mills or asbestos mines had about 10 fibres per cubic metre. This has been about enough to give around 20% of people exposed to this level of asbestos for 20 years, lung cancer. That’s pretty shockingly high, and you’d be shitting yourself if you’d been a miner or wharfie, but not so much if you’d once stood next to a sausage roll that was known to have once attended a conference nextdoor to a fibro aircraft hanger.
Remind me again why I can buy cigarettes at the supermarket, but have to wrap my neighbourhood in plastic to paint the mailbox?