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For individuals regularly working in industries that once used asbestos, exposure remains a major concern. Continued exposure can cause major health issues, including mesothelioma. However, not everyone realizes asbestos often lurks in unexpected places, including family homes.
Asbestos-containing materials (ACMs) were used to construct homes for years before the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) placed restrictions on use. In turn, many older homes can be sites of contamination. When these older homes are renovated, owners may unknowingly disturb ACMs. Once disturbed, asbestos fibers can become airborne and pose a major health risk.
Asbestos fibers, when inhaled, can become lodged in the lungs and airways. Once lodged there, they can accumulate and cause internal tissue damage. Asbestos exposure is linked to a number of health conditions, including pleural effusions (a buildup of fluid in the space between the chest wall and the lungs), pleural plaque (a thickening of the tissue around the lungs), and asbestosis.
Asbestos inhalation is also the leading risk factor for mesothelioma, a cancer of the lining of the lungs. This type of cancer is aggressive, spreads quickly, and is often not diagnosed until it is in an advanced state.
Restrictions on Asbestos in the Home
Asbestos was commonly used in construction for thousands of years. It was useful for building because it resists heat, fire, electricity, and chemicals corrosion. When scientists discovered the fibers could become airborne and cause illnesses, the EPA placed restrictions on asbestos use. However, the mineral is not completely banned in the United States.
Restrictions were initially placed on certain asbestos-containing building materials in 1973. These materials were banned almost completely in 1989. The last ban, however, was overturned in 1991 by the federal court system. Today, the U.S. is one of few developed nations that have not completely banned asbestos. Asbestos is still used in many home-building materials, but the asbestosis required to be contained to prevent it from becoming airborne.
According to EPA bans, rollboard, corrugated paper, flooring felt, and commercial or specialty paper cannot contain asbestos. Certain types of spray-applied surfacing materials and pipe insulation are also banned. Also, wall patching compound and artificial fireplace embers with asbestos are banned by EPA regulations. Furthermore, any so-called new uses, or products that did not historically have asbestos, cannot contain the mineral.
Due to the overturn of the 1989 EPA ban, there are several building materials and other products that still contain asbestos. These include vinyl floor tiles, cement flat sheet and corrugated sheet, roofing felt, roof coatings, cement pipe, cement shingle, millboard, pipeline wrap, and non-roofing coatings.
How to Spot Asbestos While Remodeling
Modern homes may also contain asbestos because of the overturned ban. However, older homes built before the mid 1980s pose the greatest risks. Any remodeling project on an older home should include a plan for containing or removing the mineral if it is discovered. If you are worried about asbestos, you can contact a licensed asbestos contractor for help.
Since there are risks associated with asbestos exposure, it is important to understand where this mineral may be in your home. In many cases, asbestos is well enclosed, keeping fibers contained and protecting people from exposure. However, as you knock into walls, remove plumbing fixtures and pipes, and do other remodeling work, you may be disturbing asbestos fibers and potentially contaminating the air in the house. Here are some places that are most likely to have asbestos:
- Older vinyl and linoleum tiles and the glue used to adhere them to the floor.
- Flat roofing materials.
- Insulation around HVAC ducts, furnaces, and pipes.
- Outdoor siding.
- Caulking and glazing for windows.
- Decorative plaster.
- Drywall patching and joint compound.
If you demolish or remove something in your home and see a white, fibrous material breaking apart, it may or may not be asbestos. It isn’t possible to tell if you have asbestos unless you are an expert and know what to look for. If you aren’t sure, the best solution is to call in a trained professional. Asbestos abatement professionals can either contain asbestos or remove it, but you should never try to do the job yourself.
Identifying, containing, or removing asbestos must be done by trained professionals. The risks of exposure are too great to attempt to do this without professional assistance. Licensed asbestos abatement professionals who can test for asbestos and deal with it in a safe manner.
As you plan to remodel your home, the best way to avoid asbestos exposure is to call a professional before you begin renovations. Find out if you have asbestos in your home and if any may become damaged before you begin. Taking these steps could save a lot of trouble and expense later, not to mention protect you and your family’s health.
Page Edited by Patient Advocate Dave Foster
Dave has been a mesothelioma Patient Advocate for over 10 years. He consistently attends all major national and international mesothelioma meetings. In doing so, he is able to stay on top of the latest treatments, clinical trials, and research results. He also personally meets with mesothelioma patients and their families and connects them with the best medical specialists and legal representatives available.