Asbestos is a hidden health hazard that can lurk right in the place where you should feel the safest: home. While those who work in the construction industry are considered the most vulnerable to asbestos exposure, especially repeated exposure, it's important to keep in mind that even very limited exposure-such as what you might experience during a simple renovation project-can have long-term negative effects. Make it a priority to prevent you and your family members from coming into contact with this dangerous material.
What is asbestos?
Asbestos is the term used to describe a group of natural minerals-including chrysotile, amosite, crocidolite, tremolite, anthophyllite, and actinolite. Together, these minerals can resist heat and corrosion, which is why they have historically been used in the construction of homes and other structures.
Where does asbestos lurk?
Asbestos has been used in innumerable products, even vehicle brakes and clutches. It was used most heavily between 1930 and 1970, but in the U.S. and Canada, the two nations that have not yet banned it, asbestos is still in use today in spite of the fact that it is a known human carcinogen. At home, it may be present in the following places:
- A sprayed coating on support beams
- Attic insulation
- Insulation in ceiling, window, and door panels
- Roof shingles and tar
- Drywall and drywall glue
- Insulation on pipes
- In vinyl or thermoplastic tile flooring
- In textured coatings used for decorative purposes, like popcorn ceilings
Asbestos can be present in the ceiling that shelters you, the walls that support it, and the floor under your feet.
Why is asbestos so dangerous?
It's surprising that something "natural" can pose such a threat, but asbestos can cause a number of serious diseases, some of which may develop slowly over time. But once they manifest, there's often little that can be done to remedy them. Asbestos is, in a word, deadly. Some of the health-related consequences of asbestos exposure include:
- Lung cancer, which looks very much like lung cancer caused by smoking
- Pleural thickening, in which the lining of the lung swells to an uncomfortable degree
- Mesothelioma, a cancer of the lining of the lungs and the lining of the lower digestive tract; once diagnosed, it is usually fatal
- Asbestosis, a painful and sometimes fatal scarring of the lungs
How can you avoid exposure to asbestos?
Even though asbestos may be present in various parts of your house, you aren't likely to develop mesothelioma just by living there. You are most likely to be exposed to asbestos during DIY home renovation projects or repairs. And if you have professionals come in to do renovations and repairs, it is extremely important that they understand asbestos and do not release any fibers of damaged or crumbling asbestos into the air, where they can circulate and be inhaled by everyone around. When renovating or repairing home areas where asbestos is present (or may be present-you don't always know, especially if you live in an older home), take the following precautions:
- Wear a suitable mask-not just a flimsy dust mask, but one designed to keep asbestos at bay
- Use hand tools, not power tools
- Clean up with a vacuum cleaner, not a broom, as you work
- Put any asbestos waste in labeled, heavy-duty bags
Do additional research before beginning any home project during which you might encounter asbestos, and keep yourself and your loved ones safe.