In Summary Asbestos proved to be an invaluable material in construction because of its properties and durability. But research has shown that contact with it can causes various cancers, Sandra Natukunda writes. In this era of fire outbreaks, asbestos might sound like a wise building material option because of its fire-resistant properties. According to Eng Peter Bumba, asbestos is a fibre made of six naturally occurring materials with fire-resistant properties. Asbestos was, therefore, used to make roofing sheets, drainage pipes, rain pipes, roofing slates and floor tiles, among others. It is often used to insulate pipes and wiring because it is fire-proof and does not ignite when exposed to sparks, explains Bumba. However, in the 1980s, research showed that this durable and fire-resistant material was dangerous to human health on exposureand mostly, upon inhalation. The fibre breaks down into very tiny spear-like microscopic fibres which when inhaled cause severe health complications that could result into death. Dr Paul Muyanga, of SAS Clinic, says that when this fibre is inhaled, it is exposed to the lungs. The cells protecting the lungs perceive it as an invader and try to fight it by producing chemicals which are unable to break it down. Instead, this forms swellings around it, causing lung cancer known as lung asbestosis. Muyanga explains that the chances of getting this cancer are high as one keeps on inhaling asbestos fibre over time. Lung asbestosis is dangerous because it causes difficulty in breathing, persistent cough and chest pain. People prone to this kind of cancer are cleaners, mechanics and plumbers because they are frequently exposed to asbestos tiles, wires and pipes, among other asbestos products. He also points out that the risk of getting asbestosis is much higher when one is also a smoker because the lungs are already weakened. This therefore increases the chance of the asbestosis fibre staying in the body. The most common home exposure is through the use of asbestos sheets and roof piping for rain harvesting. Bumba explains that the sheets wear out due to the weather and over time so they break down and the fibre is exposed. When rain water is harvested from these sheets, the fibre may be taken through drinking the water. When the fibre is taken into the stomach it may cause abdominal asbestosis also known as cancer of the stomach, Muyanga says. He adds that when the fibre gets down to the stomach, it is seen as an invader in the same way as it is in the lungs. The stomach cells try to fight the fibre by forming chemicals which fail to break it and, instead, form swellings around the fibre thereby causing stomach cancer. The doctor says that although this disease is dangerous, some people are able to fight it because they have cancer resistant cells which fight the asbestos fibre out of the body and sometimes the lungs may recover by themselves over time. He also points out that like most cancers, the disease would best be prevented by avoiding or stopping exposure to asbestos, staying in a well-ventilated room and reduction of exposure to other lung irritants like dust. He adds, People with asbestosis are most likely going to get pneumonia and bronchitis so they should quickly treat a cough and flu once they catch it. To reduce the chances of being affected by this disease, Muyanga advises that people dealing with the product especially mechanics, plumbers and cleaners wear personal protective equipment that protects them from inhaling the fibre. These dangers are not new to public as there have been sensitisation campaigns over the years discouraging the use of asbestos due to the dangers associated with it. Yet, one still sees homes and public constructions like Nakasero Primary School and Doctors Village in Mulago, with asbestos sheets and piping. David Ssengendo, the headmaster of Nakasero Primary School, said he couldnt avail any information on why the school still had asbestos. Dan Atwijukire, the Public Relations Officer Mulago Hospital, said that the hospital management was well aware of the dangersposed by the materials. So, in the 2012-2013 plan, the houses in Doctors Village are to be demolished and replaced with flats.