Asbestos and Mesothelioma: Five Tips for Avoiding Both

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Aside from causing the largest running civil tort (string of lawsuits) in the history of the country, asbestos has also established itself as one of the public health disasters of the twentieth century and one that lingers into the new millennium. Asbestos was ubiquitous in industrial products and construction materials through about 1975 in the United States. Exposure to asbestos products, especially repeated exposure, can result in a person inadvertently inhaling microscopic asbestos fibers that the body finds itself unable to excrete through natural methods. As a result they remain in the body and years, even decades later can result in the onset of asbestosis or mesothelioma cancer, two diseases for which the only known cause is asbestos. The average latency period for mesothelioma is over twenty years.

Today there are still about 3,000 cases of mesothelioma diagnosed annually in the U.S. even though asbestos usage was reduced to near zero by the end of the 1970s. Part of the reason for the continuing development of asbestos related diseases is the extraordinarily long latency period: retired workers who were exposed during factory or construction jobs in the 1950s and 1960s are just now getting sick. Part of the issue is the exposure military veterans suffered on Navy ships, in shipyards and in military facilities through the Vietnam War. And part of the reason for future asbestos illnesses is going to be exposure for construction workers and homeowners on remodeling jobs.

If you live in or have purchased a home built prior to about 1975 there’s a good chance it contains materials laced with asbestos. Those materials could be home siding, cement in the foundation or yard, roofing, ceiling tiles, floor tiles, spackling, insulation, joint compound used for wall board, textured paint, and insulation for the ceiling, walls and pipes or ducts for the heating system. During demolition and remodeling jobs this material, if improperly handled, can lead to unnecessary and dangerous exposure to asbestos.

Taking up old floor tiles, taking down old wall surfaces, taking off old roofs or house siding generates dust. Lots of dust. And that’s where young homeowners today can run into a lethal toxic material. Asbestos was used in most adhesives used for flooring, so removing those old tiles or linoleum is going to mean scraping old adhesive that contains asbestos. Cutting down old wallboard or removing old insulation can lead to exposure. The dust may seem harmless, but you don’t know what you’re inhaling. So here are five tips for avoiding asbestos exposure if you’re launching do-it-yourself projects at home.

1. Learn what’s in those old floor tiles, plaster and textured walls. Contact your county or state health agency and find out how to get products like this tested.
2. Use breathing protection. It makes sense anyway when you’re sanding, scraping or cutting crumbly products and it’s an important health protection when asbestos is involved.
3. Clean up the site every day. Get the dust off the floors, out of the rafters and off every surface where it’s collected. Even if you’re working in a stripped down shell, getting the dust up daily is a sensible health habit with or without the presence of asbestos products,
4. Recognize that some jobs may require a professional. IF you have asbestos insulation in the walls you may want a professional, licensed asbestos removal firm to tackle it. The same applies to asbestos roofing materials or siding.
5. Undisturbed asbestos materials are not health threats. Millions of homeowners have left asbestos insulation in place, because it’s buried in the walls and does the job. Many people cover over old floor tiles with a new surface.

Asbestos is a benign threat for people who live around it if they are aware of its presence and how to either manage its removal or seal it off – and to be aware of its presence in future architectural changes such as a new heating system. But there’s no escaping the fact that tens of millions of American homes contain significant amounts of asbestos products; if yours is one of them learning about construction materials is an excellent health maintenance activity.

Guest Post By:

Ben Stillwater is a freelance writer for Asbestos News, an online resource for asbestos and mesothelioma cancer information.



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