Since the 1970s, public health experts have been spreading the word about the dangers of asbestos exposure. As a result, everyday consumers became more wary of insulation materials in older homes and responsible industries in the U.S. curbed any new use of the mineral.
With this kind of progress, it can be easy to make the mistake of thinking that asbestos is a problem of the past and that there is no reason to be worried. That is not the case – mines continue to operate in countries around the world, asbestos can still be used in the manufacturing of some American products in which it had always been included and people in the U.S. can still come into contact with the mineral in aging buildings.
Considering the first week of April is National Asbestos Awareness Week, I personally can’t think of a better occasion to review strategies to protect yourself from this mineral.
Asbestos is a ‘special concern’ for tradespeople
To kick off the occasion, U.S. Surgeon General Dr. Regina Benjamin released a statement in which she warned the public that asbestos can lead to a host of potentially fatal medical complications, including malignant mesothelioma, lung cancer and asbestosis. Here’s what she said:
“Anyone who disturbs asbestos is at risk. However, it is of special concern for construction, insulation, and demolition workers, pipe-fitters, boilermakers and others who might disturb asbestos found in old buildings or equipment as part of their work. The hazard is also very real to home handymen, first-responders, and community volunteers.”
Benjamin’s warning was prompted by the U.S. Senate, which passed a resolution dedicating the first week of April to asbestos awareness. In the bill, they acknowledged several important points about this mineral:
- Asbestos fibers are invisible. They have no taste or odor.
- Asbestos-related diseases can take 10 to 50 years to show any symptoms.
- The average survival time following a diagnosis of mesothelioma is between 6 and 24 months.
- Although asbestos consumption in the U.S. is lower than it was in previous years, it’s still pretty significant at 1,100 metric tons a year.
Asbestos is also a problem in older homes
The use of asbestos peaked in the U.S. during the mid-1970s. In the 1980s, the practice of including asbestos in the construction of homes and buildings began to drop sharply because of the growing awareness of the medical problems it caused. If you live in a structure that was built before 1980, it’s likely that asbestos is in your home.
However, you’re not in any danger as long as the asbestos is left intact and undisturbed. If you discover asbestos, try to inspect it for damage without touching it. If it’s damaged, leave it alone and try to limit your children’s and pets’ access to the area around it.
In case the material is severely deteriorated, or you ‘re planning on making major renovations to the house, you should consult a trained professional to handle asbestos abatement or repairs. This sometimes involves covering the asbestos with some type of material that can prevent the release of airborne fibers.
Before hiring a professional, you should ask him or her to provide proof of accreditation to work with asbestos. Once a job has been completed, this individual also should give you a checklist that ensures he or she complied with safety regulations and that all appropriate tests have been done to confirm there is no remaining asbestos in the environment.