What should you know about asbestos?
The risk of getting an asbestos related disease correlates to the dose and duration of exposure. Those working in a job with exposure naturally are at greater risk; however particles on clothing brought home puts others at risk. Risk also exists for exposure due to damaged materials in buildings that utilized asbestos.
Asbestos fibers remain trapped in your lungs for life. The more you inhale the greater your risk of getting an asbestos related disease. The risk never disappears. Other factors such as cigarette smoking, and personal genetics will determine ‘if’ and ‘when’ symptoms will appear. The shortest latency period from exposure to asbestos to appearance of disease is 5 to 10 years, but could be as long as 40 years. There is no safe level of exposure to asbestos.
Asbestos was historically found in textured paint, insulating cement and blocks, packing materials, gaskets, pipe covering, insulation materials, fireproofing spray, joint compound, vinyl floor tile, ceiling tile, acoustical textures, duct insulation for heating, ventilation and air conditioning systems, insulated electrical wire and panels and brake and clutch assemblies. This is not an exhaustive list.
Asbestos was used in building materials between 1940 and 1980’s. Because asbestos is a mineral made up of fibers, when it is disturbed it becomes an inhalable dust. The health risk is presented when asbestos is disturbed. Examples would be remodeling, demolition, or problems with damaged or deteriorating buildings. Generally asbestos is not considered a health risk if it is intact.
In 1979 The U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission banned the use of asbestos in wallboard patching compounds and gas fireplaces. In 1979 electric hairdryer manufacturers voluntarily stopped using asbestos in their products. Recently crayon manufacturers voluntarily reformulated their products which were found to have trace amounts of a non-hazardous asbestos by-product.
In 1986 Congress passed the Asbestos Hazards Emergency Response Act (AHERA) to regulated use of asbestos. In 1990 further regulation was passed to require certification of persons working on asbestos in schools, and public and commercial buildings. Asbestos is still legal in the United States. The EPA ban on asbestos was legally challenged and overturned by the Supreme Court in 1991.
The use, transportation, disposal and inspection of asbestos is carefully regulated by the EPA. The American Society for Testing and Materials (ASTM) is an international agency that sets voluntary standards for testing, practices and products. So for example, when a damaged building is inspected by AHERA certified inspectors, they are adhering to ASTM standards.
What can you do to prevent asbestos exposure?
If your home improvement project involves a home or building that may be at risk for asbestos exposure hire an AHERA inspector before disturbing potential asbestos materials. Asbestos cannot be determined by a simple visual exam. An asbestos abatement plan may be the next step if the project involves disturbing the asbestos.
- Pleural plaque-Thickening of the pleural membranes covering the lungs. While non-cancerous and they do not change into cancer, evidence shows that those with pleural plaque may get lung cancer in the future.
- Asbestosis-Scarring of the lung tissue which causes inflammatory breathing complications.
- Lung cancer-small cell or non small cell lung cancer.
- Mesothelioma-The only known cause of this type of cancer in the U.S. This type of cancer affects the membrane covering the lungs the lining of the chest wall and the diaphragm. It can appear forty years after exposure.
Asbestos.com: Leading resource on asbestos and mesothelioma cancer.
Occupational Health & Safety Administration (OSHA) resources on asbestos.
The EPA for detailed information on asbestos emission standards and AHERA.
The National Cancer Institute Fact Sheet on asbestos exposure.
The American Cancer Society discussion on asbestos and cancer.