This past Sunday, a violent storm devastated parts of the town of Kiama in New South Wales, Australia. Neighbors of some of the homes which were destroyed have been told not to return to their homes, perhaps for a week, because of the risk of asbestos from the wreckage. The front page of a neighboring town's newspaper Tuesday was almost completely filled with photo of a team of asbestos specialists in protective clothing crossing an intersection where both roads have been barricaded with caution tape.

Good things about radioactive material, compared to asbestos
Guest post by Steve Schulin

If the risk in this case were from radioactive materials, it would be very easy to survey the area, and monitor the success of any decontamination. But asbestos isn't easy to distinguish when it has been removed from the original product in which it was used, or on which it was applied.

And when the cleanup specialists miss some, well, asbestos has no half-life. Any fibres left around will potentially be available for becoming airborne and inhaled by man or beast [indefinitely]. And as best I recall, health experts say one asbestos fiber lodged in the lung is enough to cause mesothelioma.

So my nominee today for "Things worse than nuclear" is ... asbestos from homes in Kiama, Australia.

- - - Mr. Schulin is a former journeyman radiation protection technician at US nuclear power plants. He's the founding editor at He says he's disappointed that none of the billion-dollar-plus companies which aspire to be the world's premier nuclear company have made him on offer on the industry's premier domain name. "The first $15-million takes it."
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  1. Wish there was a way for some gutsy fair and balanced reporter somewhere to take up all the points of this blog against the media's groundless anti-nuke bias! All these remarks makes so much logic and sense it hurts!

    James Greenidge
    Queens NY

  2. In theory, one particle of asbestos can cause cancer just as one particle of plutonium could. In practice, it is somewhat different.

    Asbestos particles cause a permanent (!) local inflammation of the lung tissue at the point where they lodge inside the lung. Due to their topology, asbestos particles never leave the place they get lodged (although some asbestos may enter the bloodstream and cause problems in other places in the body). The probability of a single asbestos particle causing cancer is slight, but when the lungs have too many asbestos particles, the lungs' resistance to inflammation can be overwhelmed, leading to various kinds of asbestos related diseases including cancer. So in practice, a single asbestos particle is *not* likely to be a problem, but many particles are very likely to cause a problem.

    Incidentally, asbestos is a natural part of the environment. A spade-full of average earth or sand taken from any back-yard is likely to contain many asbestos particles. All human lungs therefore contain at least some (naturally occurring) asbestos particles. Like radiation exposure, the danger is in the amount of exposure. Unlike radiation, asbestos particles - once they enter the lungs or the body - stay there forever and their negative health effects are permanent, cumulative and do not diminish over time. Additionally, there are various types of asbestos particles each having a slightly difference effect and risk on the human body.

    To be clear, I am no expert on asbestos and health, but last year I had to remove some old asbestos drainpipes from my (100 year old) home, and I didn't want to pay thousands of dollars for a specialized cleanup team, so I did it myself. Prior to doing the work, I read-up on asbestos health risk and clean-up procedures, which is how I learned what I wrote above about asbestos and health.


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