Did you know that homes built before 1980 are at a higher risk of containing asbestos materials? Before the 1980s, there were very few restrictions on the use of asbestos in building materials. This has resulted in health complications for those exposed to asbestos, including the possibility of being diagnosed with mesothelioma cancer, because of toxic fibers in the air.
In honor of Mesothelioma Awareness Day on September 26th, it’s important to stress the importance of what can happen if exposure to asbestos occurs in your home. Keep reading to learn more about how and why you should check your house for asbestos materials.
What Is Asbestos?
Asbestos is a material that has heat and chemical-resistant properties, which is why it was a popular additive to the construction of houses before it was deemed an unsafe material. Therefore, asbestos is commonly found in households, especially in the ever-popular popcorn ceiling, because it was used as a fireproofing technique.
There are six kinds of asbestos– chrysotile, actinolite, amosite, anthophyllite, crocidolite, and tremolite. Each kind is dangerous and should be avoided as research is still being conducted to determine if one kind is more harmful than the others.
Asbestos fibers are quite small and not easily seen with the eye. Since asbestos cannot be discovered with the naked eye, it’s difficult to tell if it is present without special tools. Most asbestos fibers, however, are quite sharp and can be felt easily if accidentally touched.
Common Asbestos Products
Some of the most common products in home construction that contain asbestos include:
- Ceiling tiles
It’s likely that homes built before 1980 still have these original products in the build, which is why it’s important to check your home and make the appropriate updates to decrease the chances of exposure.
During the late 1960s and early 1970s, asbestos mining was in its prime. To obtain asbestos, miners would spend their days mining at one of the over 100 asbestos mining locations in the United States. Miners would drill or blast through the first layer of earth to reach the asbestos. Once removed, the asbestos would be processed at manufacturing plants and developed into building materials.
In 1970 it was discovered that that asbestos was dangerous, so alterations were made to asbestos mining techniques. Miners began wetting the ore to help prevent the release of the toxic fibers. However, this did not last long as asbestos mines began to shut down to reduce the risk of exposure in the United States. In 2002 the last operating asbestos mine in the US officially shut down.
Today, asbestos is regulated in the United States. In 1979 regulations surrounding asbestos forced builders and manufacturers to turn to alternatives that are safer than asbestos.
How Asbestos Exposure Occurs
Now that you understand what asbestos is, it’s important to understand how asbestos exposure can occur in your home. Asbestos exposure typically occurs when the fibers are airborne. Asbestos fibers become airborne when there is damage to asbestos-containing materials.
For example, a tear in flooring or the ceiling can lead to asbestos fibers entering your home’s airflow. This can be quite a common occurrence during home renovation projects if asbestos is not tested before starting the project. If you plan on dealing with this, make sure you do it safely. To prevent exposure through your hands grab yourself some hazmat gloves. In addition, a respirator will be required to avoid breathing in particles. Outside of the home, asbestos exposure can occur in certain professions or even in older schools or office buildings. However, most large buildings or businesses have commercial-grade HEPA filters to help eliminate airborne asbestos particles.
What Happens If You’re Exposed to Asbestos?
Asbestos workers or those living in a home that contains asbestos are more prone to developing an asbestos-related disease. There are approximately 255,000 asbestos-related deaths in the US each year– making it extremely important to avoid inhaling asbestos particles. While asbestos exposure can be prevented, unfortunately not everyone has the knowledge or tools to avoid it, which can result in one of the following health complications.
Unfortunately, exposure to asbestos can lead to different forms of cancer over time. Asbestos causes cancers such as mesothelioma, lung cancer, and asbestosis. These cancers are formed because air particles can cause damage to the lungs.
Some cancers can be prevented, like mesothelioma, by avoiding exposure to asbestos. However, this isn’t always possible if you are unknowingly exposed. This is why it’s important to check your home for asbestos to ensure that you are breathing in safe, quality air.
Mesothelioma Cancer: A rare cancer that most commonly affects the lungs or the abdomen and is caused directly by exposure to asbestos. Typically, symptoms and diagnoses do not occur until 10-50 years after initial exposure, making diagnosis difficult as they typically overlap with those of a less serious illness. Therefore, it’s so important to make a conscious effort to avoid asbestos exposure as the consequences can happen much later in life.
Lung Cancer: The second most common cancer diagnosis in the United States with 200,000 new cases every year. Lung cancer is most commonly caused by smoking, but asbestos exposure makes up three to four percent of new diagnoses. On average, those who develop lung cancer as a result of asbestos exposure typically do not receive a diagnosis until 15-35 years after exposure.
In addition to the possibility of an asbestos-induced cancer diagnosis, other diseases are possible as well. Those who experience exposure to asbestos are at an increased risk of developing non-cancerous conditions such as asbestosis or pleural plaques.
Asbestosis: A chronic lung condition, also commonly known as pulmonary fibrosis, that is developed years after exposure to asbestos. The asbestos fibers can become encapsulated in the lung tissue and lead to scarring or inflammation over time. While asbestosis is not a form of cancer, it can increase the chances of developing asbestos-induced cancers in the future.
Pleural Plaques: These plaques typically form between 20 and 30 years after continual asbestos exposure. The lining of the lung develops small areas of thickened tissue as a result of asbestos exposure, but the good news is that these areas are typically benign and do not require any form of treatment. However, it’s important to keep an eye on these plaques as they do increase the risk of developing a more serious asbestos-caused condition.
How To Check for Asbestos in Your Home
There are many resources and methods available for testing for asbestos in your home. If you suspect that you may have asbestos lingering in your house, consider one of the following testing methods:
Asbestos Abatement Professional
The safest way to check your home for asbestos is to have a professional take a look. Asbestos abatement services are the number one recommended option because they have the safety equipment to check for asbestos and know how to stay protected. Asbestos is very difficult to see with the naked eye. Professionals have the right tools to test for it and will know the best next steps for removal if necessary.
At-Home Testing Kit
For smaller areas where you think asbestos may be present, such as in flooring or a basement that rarely gets used, you can consider using an at-home asbestos test kit. These kits are usually available at a local hardware store and come with step-by-step instructions on how to use them. Typically, you safely collect the sample and then send it to a testing facility for a fee. While this may be more convenient and cheaper than hiring a professional, there are still risks to doing it yourself and may increase your chances of exposure.
Utilize Local Resources
Some local communities and government agencies offer assistance when it comes to testing your home for asbestos. If you are concerned about asbestos in your home, check your local government site for information on how to test for it and how to properly remove and dispose of the material. Visit the US Environmental Protection Agency site for more guidance.
Tips for Asbestos Safety
If you suspect that your current home may have asbestos, or if you’re moving into a new home soon, it’s important to follow the necessary safety steps to avoid asbestos exposure. Here are some tips to keep in mind:
- Before buying a new home, confirm that there are no lingering asbestos particles. Make plans before moving in to remove asbestos or patch up any problem areas.
- Avoid secondhand asbestos exposure by putting on clean clothes before returning home to your family if you work in an asbestos environment.
- Seek professional guidance when beginning a new home improvement project that could lead to asbestos exposure in the home.
- Invest in an HVAC home air purifying system to keep your home and family safe.
In all, it’s important to inspect your home for asbestos to ensure that your family is breathing in healthy, quality air. Knowing that your home is asbestos-free will also increase its long-term durability and home value. Since asbestos-induced health complications can take a while to form it isn’t always known if someone is being affected by asbestos exposure. Because of this, it’s best to take safety precautions to make sure accidental exposure isn’t occurring and that your home is safe for you and your loved ones.
This Mesothelioma Awareness Day, join the movement to minimize asbestos exposure in your community and share with family and friends the importance of checking their home for asbestos.