When hurricane Ian churned through the southern United States last year, the damage in its wake was shocking. This sudden, catastrophic event not only claimed 148 lives but also destroyed homes, businesses, infrastructures, and more. The images of death and destruction that dominated the news for weeks are forever etched in our memories.
Less obvious but equally devastating are hidden threats to our health and environment. Three such dangers are asbestos, excessive rain and heat. Over time, they each can cause significant damage to human health or to your home. In this article, we focus on asbestos. Click on the following links to read more about the damage caused from excessive rain or extreme heat.
Asbestos refers to a silicate mineral found naturally (and therefore mined) around the globe.
The sharp microscopic fibers that comprise asbestos produce a mineral of extraordinary strength. It is nonflammable and noncombustible, with a melting point of 1,600 degrees Fahrenheit. But danger to human health occurs when the tiny fibers become airborne.
Asbestos dominated American manufacturing for over half of the 20th century. It was used across nearly all industries, including the construction of homes, offices, schools, ships, roadways, and more. Its tensile strength, heat-resistance, and insulative properties suggested that it could propel us to new technological and economical heights. However, by the 1970s it was clear that serious consequences of asbestos exposure far outweighed the benefits derived from its use.
Exposure occurs when asbestos-containing materials are damaged or disturbed. Damage may occur simply due to deterioration over time, and renovation projects can disturb asbestos-containing materials that might otherwise remain non-threatening. In either case, the tiny, light fibers are released into the air where they can be inhaled and/or ingested by humans.
According to the CDC, inhalation is the most common route leading to illness. The fibers become trapped in the lungs and over time irreversible tissue damage can lead to grave illness. Less common, ingestion occurs when the fibers are swallowed and enter the digestive system. This may happen when swallowing material removed from the lungs or consuming something contaminated (such as drinking water).
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 – appears similar to 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.
According to the United States Department of Labor’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration, there are no safe levels of asbestos exposure for any asbestos fibers. If you have any concerns about the presence of asbestos in your home or workplace, contact a trained and certified asbestos professional. You can have peace of mind knowing that your concerns are addressed thoroughly, professionally, and in full compliance with governmental agencies.