Asbestos—it’s not a four-letter word, but it should be. Asbestos is so dangerous to human health that it is now illegal to use it in newly constructed buildings, and if it is found in a home during construction or remodeling, it must be removed before continuing work. (If you watch this done on HGTV shows, you’ll even see them wearing hazmat suits and masks during removal!)
Asbestos is still used in many products, although it can no longer be used as insulation in homes. This means that everyone should still be aware of the dangers and how to prevent exposure.
But why is asbestos so dangerous, and what can happen if you spend a lot of time around it?
What Is Asbestos?
Asbestos actually occurs naturally in the earth. It is a mineral that is heat-resistant and doesn’t corrode. This makes it a perfect element for insulating homes, besides the fact that breathing it in high quantities could be deadly.
Everyone has breathed it in in some form, in some amount, be it from the air, water, or soil. If you have products that contain asbestos, it isn’t a danger until that product is damaged or taken apart, releasing asbestos into the air.
Some products that still contain asbestos are car brakes, blankets, heat-resistant fabrics, roof shingles, house siding, vinyl flooring, and old insulation. Although it is no longer mined or processed in the United States, it is still used in flooring, cement pipes, car brakes, and clothing. It is against the law to use it in paper, felt flooring, artificial fireplace logs, and insulation.
Asbestos use is regulated by OSHA (Occupational Safety and Health Administration) well as the EPA (Environmental Protection Agency). Because asbestos particles are microscopic, any building or product containing it must make its consumers aware that it is present.
If a person breathes in a great deal of asbestos, it can build up in their lungs, creating scar tissue. This can reduce lung function, eventually leading to disability or death. It can also cause diseases such as cancer or mesothelioma, which can also be fatal.
Who Is At Risk?
People who work at removing asbestos in high amounts, such as construction workers, renovation or repair teams, brake and clutch vehicle technicians, ship repair technicians, and those who work in manufacturing asbestos products.
Preventing the Negative Effects of Asbestos
As stated, OSHA protects employees against asbestos exposure with specific guidelines for each company. These reduce risk and require that employees wear personal monitoring devices so that they know if they are being overexposed. However, there is no “safe” level, and any exposure is dangerous, so precautions over and above OSHA standards are always a smart move.
Unless you work with asbestos daily, your risk level is quite low, negligible even. However, if you are planning on remodeling your home or deconstructing an old addition, you will need to have experts assess whether there is old asbestos in the walls and develop a plan for removal if it is present. Don’t try to tackle this yourself! Leave it to the professionals and keep yourself safe.