Is Asbestos Still Something To Worry About?

As you’ll see on our social media posts this month, Asbestos is still a danger in the U.S. Over the years, the EPA has tried to make asbestos a diminishing factor for US Citizens, but legislation has sometimes been hard to pass. A recent ruling provides more hope. Still, we hear of asbestos dangers in old buildings that have been destroyed by fire or demolished to make way for something new. Asbestos can also be a risk after a flood, as homes or businesses are renovated afterwards. This month we also hear of possible danger in a National Park. Please keep informed by joining us on Facebook, X (formally Twitter) and LinkedIn. For now, here’s the facts about asbestos in homes and offices.

Asbestos refers to a group of naturally occurring minerals found in the United States and in countries around the world. Heavy mining and manufacturing of asbestos-containing products during the last century led to health and safety concerns, resulting in Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) restrictions and regulations beginning in the 1970s.

When asbestos fibers (which are like tiny shards of glass) are inhaled, they lodge in the soft tissues of the respiratory system and, sometimes, in the gastrointestinal system. Over time the tissues become inflamed and damaged, leading to serious diseases like mesothelioma, lung cancer, and asbestosis. Asbestos exposure has also been linked to other cancers.

So, where are people most likely to encounter asbestos today? Basically, at home or at work.

Asbestos at Home

Due to its excellent tensile strength, and its ability to insulate and act as a fire retardant, asbestos was widely used in the building industry throughout most of the twentieth century. This means that homes built prior to 1980 likely contain asbestos in some of their building materials. Common uses in the home include insulated tape used on ductwork, floor and ceiling tiles, vermiculite insulation in attics and walls, roofing and siding materials, and textured paint and patching compounds.

If these products are in good condition there is little chance of asbestos fibers being released into the air. The best course of action is to leave the materials undisturbed and visually inspect them on a regular basis. However, there is risk of exposure if they are deteriorating due to age or will be disturbed through renovation. At this point you should contact a trained and certified asbestos professional. They will advise you about how to proceed safely with repairs and/or renovations.

Asbestos at Work

Over 60 countries have banned asbestos (the United States is not one of them). However, countries like China and India continue to use it in various products. Inevitably, some asbestos-containing materials (ACM) are imported by Western countries each year. The continuing importation of ACM and the asbestos still remaining in buildings due to its heavy use in the last century mean that workers in several industries can still be at risk of exposure.

Despite asbestos being labeled as a known carcinogen, chrysotile (one form of the asbestos mineral family) is still commercially used today. Cement products such as pipes, siding, and roofing account for more than 90 percent of global asbestos use. Further, even considering strict regulations published by OSHA, a recent study found that installation and removal of asbestos cement products often results in exposure levels far exceeding occupational limits set in the United States.

According to the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR), today most occupational exposures occur during repair, removal, renovation, or maintenance of ACM that were installed years ago. OSHA estimates that roughly 1.3 million workers in construction and general industry were exposed to asbestos last year on the job while performing these activities.

The Bottom Line

There is no doubt that health problems from occupational exposure dominate. According to the National Cancer Society,

Everyone is exposed to asbestos at some time during their life. Low levels of asbestos are present in the air, water, and soil. However, most people do not become ill from their exposure. People who become ill from asbestos are usually those who are exposed to it on a regular basis, most often in a job where they work directly with the material or through substantial environmental contact.

However, there are no “safe” levels of asbestos exposure. The best way to handle the presence of asbestos in your home is the safe way – contact an asbestos professional such as Paragon. We will evaluate the situation and provide advice. Even if there is no evidence of damage or deterioration involving possible ACMs, you will have peace of mind knowing exactly how you should proceed.

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