Approximately eighty percent of homes built prior to 1980 contain asbestos. Considering the approximate 125 million households in the United States, that’s about 100 million homes, that each contains the potential of posing harmful exposure of asbestos to its occupants.
The name, asbestos originates from the Greek word for “inextinguishable” due to its fire resistant properties and malleability. True to its name origin and its other physical characteristics, asbestos can be found in a myriad of household materials and products. However, without proper caution or awareness of how to identify asbestos or asbestos-containing materials, health, safety and well being, are immediately in jeopardy.
Earlier this year, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released a report on malignant mesothelioma mortality rates, proving urgency to the importance and severity of asbestos as the only scientifically proven cause of this type of cancer. This rare disease, known to affect the lives of over 3,000 individuals each year, took the lives of exactly 45,221 people between 1999-2015 and the death rate among those exposed to asbestos, increased each year.
What is Asbestos?
Asbestos is a fibrous, silicate mineral. This natural resource can be found in various parts of the world and was once mined in various parts throughout the United States including Arizona, California, Connecticut, Georgia, Idaho, Maryland, Massachusetts, Montana, North Carolina, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Utah, Vermont, Virginia, Washington, and Wyoming. Asbestos was mined for centuries globally and although still consumed in various parts of the world today, asbestos was used in the United States primarily between the early 1930s-1980s with peak use in 1973.
As a result, many schools, buildings, homes and other structures built during this time period contain asbestos. Today, it is unclear exactly how many homes or buildings contain asbestos, however, there were approximately 200,000 homes built between the 1960s and late 1970s in Orange County, California alone, which were equipped with asbestos. Considering the vast number of homes and structures likely to contain asbestos, and the populations that reside or come into contact with such structures, asbestos awareness is key.
The Health Risks of Asbestos
Public health campaigns such as lead and radon have become widespread, however, asbestos awareness is still lacking today, putting children, families, and employees at risk of exposure. Practically speaking, asbestos is generally safe when encapsulated or enclosed, however when asbestos-containing materials become damaged, disturbed, or when asbestos fibers become airborne, inhaled or ingested, the silicate fibers can attach to the delicate lining of the lungs, abdomen or heart. Over time, the fibers and scar tissue can develop into mesothelioma cancer or other health concerns up to 10 to 50 years later.
How To Identify Asbestos
Thankfully, as a result, federal and state laws are now in place, to restrict the use of asbestos. For example, products that historically contained asbestos are able to contain up to 1% of asbestos today. If your home was built between the 1930s and 1970s and suspect that your home contains asbestos, or if you are not sure if your home contains asbestos, have your home tested by a certified, trained and professional asbestos service company. Do not touch, damage or disturb any materials known or suspected to contain asbestos and consider the following while identifying asbestos:
- Watch for exposed materials such as crumbling breaks in walls, plaster, cement, tiling, insulation and more, that may contain asbestos
- Avoid all materials suspected to contain asbestos and do not attempt to remove or dispose of any materials on your own
- Test for Asbestos with a qualified inspector before remodeling or making repairs
- Contact a trained professional if asbestos is found in your home to properly dispose of or encapsulate asbestos
- Help your community become aware of the dangers associated with asbestos exposure
Signs & Symptoms Related to Asbestos Exposure
There are a number of asbestos-related diseases other than mesothelioma, which are directly associated with asbestos exposure including asbestosis, pleural effusion, pleural plaque, pneumothorax, asbestos warts, and more. Despite the variety of health ramifications that result from asbestos exposure, there are few symptoms associated with exposure.
If you have been exposed to asbestos, it can take up to 10-50 years to experiences symptoms of an asbestos-related disease and many will experience little, to no symptoms at all. Furthermore, symptoms experienced are often associated with other disease and illness, resulting in misdiagnosis. As a result, the process of accurately diagnosing asbestos-related disease is a tedious, often lengthy process, which requires a series of imaging tests as well as a biopsy to rule out the potential of other disease.
Common symptoms of asbestos-related disease include:
- Chest pain or discomfort
- Cough, shortness of breath either dull or slight
- Abdominal pain
- Significant weight loss
- Fluid build-up in the abdomen (ascites)
- Nausea, fever, and signs of anemia.
- Although rare, individuals may also experience fluid buildup around the heart, heart murmurs, fever and night sweats.
If you have experienced any of the symptoms above and have likely been exposed to asbestos first or secondhand, consult with your doctor or health care provider immediately. If you have been diagnosed with influenza, flu, pneumonia, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), lung cancer or inguinal hernia and irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), which do not go away, discuss any potential asbestos exposure and misdiagnosis with your physician as well.
Asbestos Removal and Protection
Never attempt an asbestos abatement or mitigation project, including disposal, at any time, to prevent first and second-hand exposure as a result of asbestos contamination in the air, water, soil, etcetera. Considering the life-threatening risks associated with exposure to asbestos, it is always best to leave any asbestos abatement or mitigation project to trained and certified professionals, only.
If you suspect that any part of your home contains asbestos, periodically check for tears, abrasions, crumbling or water damage in the area and have the area and materials tested by a certified and trained professional.
Once asbestos has been identified and confirmed, other areas may likely be identified as well and a trained, certified professional will be able to determine if the area can be safely encapsulated or if abatement is recommended. All abatement procedures performed by professionals will require adequate respiratory protection and masks, gloves, HEPA vacuum, and disposable HAZMAT suits.
To keep safe and protected from any existing asbestos in your home, ensure that the area is encapsulated and out of harm’s way. For example, if your attic contains vermiculite-based insulation, it may contain asbestos, so it is important to seal all cracks and holes in ceilings of rooms below the location of insulation. Additionally, windows, doorframes, baseboards, walls and cracks should also be sealed with caulking. Do not touch, damage, disturb, sweep, mop, ventilate or use fans in any area likely to contain asbestos and consult with a professional immediately with any doubts.
Aside from exposure to asbestos at home, there are a number of ways to prevent its exposure including occupational and environmental exposure. Construction workers, shipyard workers, auto mechanics, firefighters, manufacturers, to name a few are most often exposed to asbestos in the workplace.
Environmental exposure is also possible for those who live or frequent areas where asbestos is found naturally. Asbestos fibers in the environment can be released into soil and water sources, posing equal harm to human health, so it is important to be aware of asbestos to prevent its exposure in a number of forms.
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