Although the dangers of asbestos have been widely discussed for over 50 years in the U.S., we also know that the mere presence of asbestos in a home or a building is not hazardous. As in most areas, Denver, Golden and the surrounding areas include homes that may have asbestos present in the materials used to construct buildings. But most of the time, asbestos poses very little risk to your health. As a matter of fact, asbestos is naturally present in the environment in very low concentrations and most people will never experience problems related to exposure.
So, when should you worry about asbestos? Considering the health hazards associated with exposure – especially long-term, repeated exposure – knowing the circumstances that are cause for concern is important. For example, there are several serious or fatal diseases associated with asbestos exposure:
- Asbestosis – extreme scarring of the lungs, causing shortness of breath. This is a serious condition, and it is potentially fatal.
- Lung cancer – can appear like lung cancers caused by smoking. Because it is most often diagnosed in the later stages of the illness, it is usually fatal.
- Mesothelioma – a very specific type of cancer affecting lungs and digestive tract. Like other asbestos-induced lung cancers, it is usually fatal.
- Pleural thickening – the lining of the lungs thickens and swells, making it uncomfortable and difficult to breathe.
Becoming aware of the potential for exposure in your home, work, or educational environment can help you and your family avoid serious health issues.
Asbestos At Home
Remember, the mere presence of asbestos in your home is not hazardous; it becomes a hazard when asbestos containing materials (ACM) deteriorate or become damaged. This can cause fibers to become airborne, where they can be inhaled and subsequently lodge in the lungs.
If your home was built prior to 1976, there is a high likelihood that ACM was used in its construction. Asbestos can be found in building supplies such as insulation, plumbing pipes, ceiling and flooring tiles, sheetrock, and more. Perform a visual inspection of your home and take note of the condition of such items. If you notice that potential ACM is damaged, has deteriorated, or will be disturbed by renovations, you should hire an accredited asbestos inspector to advise you on next steps. This will likely include repair or removal by a trained and accredited professional.
Asbestos At Work
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reports 40,100 deaths from mesothelioma between 2005 and 2014, with 70% of those deaths being work related. Lung cancer traced to asbestos exposure is responsible for about 6,000 deaths per year. Workers and those who handled finished products containing asbestos are at high risk of occupational exposure caused by loose asbestos fibers.
Although any amount of exposure can cause mesothelioma and/or lung cancer, some occupations involve higher rates of exposure. Industrial and trade workers are particularly vulnerable to exposure due to the nature of their work and the materials they encounter daily. In fact, due to secondhand exposure even the loved ones of these workers could be at risk. Those occupations posing the greatest risk are:
- Shipyard workers
- Construction workers
- HVAC workers
- Industrial workers
- Machine operators
- Merchant marines
- Metal workers
- Oil refinery workers
- Railroad workers
The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) has strict requirements for employers regarding asbestos in the workplace. You should follow all safety instructions, including wearing personal protective equipment when required. Also, if you have been exposed to asbestos, talk to your doctor, and seek regular screening for asbestos-related diseases.
One Final Note
Many schools and other educational buildings were built prior to the mid-seventies. If you have concerns about how your child’s school has addressed potential ACM, talk to your school officials. Likely the situation has been handled according to national, state, and local requirements and protocols – but it’s better to find out than to worry about it or, worse, allow potential exposure to asbestos.
If you need help handling asbestos in your home, remember that it is important to hire trained, accredited professionals to perform asbestos repairs and removal. When your project is complete, not only will you be sure that your home or office is free from the health risks associated with asbestos, but you will also have peace of mind that the job was performed according to the safest standards and in compliance with all applicable guidelines. For more information, give us a call at 303-529-1257.