Sunday 23 August 1998
The more dangerous blue and brown types of asbestos have been banned since 1985, but the white version, present in many buildings in the form of asbestos cement sheets, corrugated roofing and textured paints, was not thought to be dangerous.
Now research has found that it, too, can cause lung diseases and cancer, the effects perhaps only emerging 40 years after initial contact.
Other materials which were once thought to be safe include lead in paint and water pipes, and white spirit. MDF (Medium Density Fibreboard) is also suspected of being more dangerous than previously thought.
Unfortunately, exposure to these materials can be more dangerous within the home than at work - because the home is a closed environment, and also the place where children spend most of their time.
The sad thing about these dangerous materials is that it takes such a long time to get them recognised as hazardous, and for action to be taken to protect the public. Doubts were first expressed about lead paint while Queen Victoria was on the throne, but it took until 1992 for it to be banned in Britain.
And now the HSE in London has been told that common pesticides probably represent the most serious environmental problem in the industrialised world. Professor Nicholas Ashford, a UN health advisor, said that permethrin - sprayed in around 5,000 British homes a week as a woodworm treatment - may be responsible for initiating the illness known as multiple chemical sensitivity, which causes sufferers to become affected by exposure to tiny amounts of other common substances, such as perfume, traffic fumes and tobacco smoke.
Professor Ashford introduced a new theory of the illness, which he calls Toxicant Induced Loss of Tolerance. It explains why some sensitised patients react to levels of chemicals so low that they are undetectable by the usual laboratory testing methods. This means that their symptoms baffle doctors who, unable to diagnose a classic cause-and-effect illness, conclude that the illness must be a mental problem. Indeed, studies have shown that women who complain about headaches, skin rashes and breathing problems after exposure to timber treatment chemicals are often prescribed tranquillisers, or sent for counselling.
(Men, who most doctors seem to think must be more emotionally stable, are more likely to be diagnosed as suffering from a viral infection when they report the same set of symptoms.)
In the light of Professor Ashford's startling theory, we can only hope that the HSE acts fast to commission some research into the health effects of pesticides in the home, and that they also act on his call to cut pesticide use until the answers are known.
Above all, let's hope that, unlike the lead and asbestos problems, this time it won't be several decades before the right decisions are taken.
Life & Style blogs
City traders pay £200 for a quick hangover cure
Stephen Hawking: NHS is Britain's finest public service and must be preserved from commercial interests
The enemy within: People who hear voices in their heads are being encouraged to talk back
The Pirate Bay is back — but key staff have left to start a rival site
Eight-year-old girl Camilla Lisant suggests possible cancer treatment to her scientist father over the dinner table
Stephen Fry explains what he would say if he was 'confronted by God'
The open loathing between Barack Obama and Benjamin Netanyahu just got worse
9 reasons Greece's experiment with the radical left is doomed to failure
President Putin is a dangerous psychopath - reason is not going to work with him
Have we reached 'peak food'? Shortages loom as global production rates slow
Britain's widening poverty gap should be causing outrage at the start of the election campaign
- 1 Three-year-old boy shoots pregnant mother and father in New Mexico
- 2 Stephen Fry explains what he would say if he was 'confronted by God'
Negotiable: Tradewind Recruitment: PMLD Teacher A specialist primary school i...
£15000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Now our rapidly expanding and A...
£15000 - £20000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Are you passionate about great ...
£20000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This fast growing reinforcing s...