To many Americans, the idea of being exposed to asbestos sounds like something that might have been a possibility forty or fifty years ago, but not any longer. After all, the carcinogen has been banned in the U.S. for many years. At least that’s what people believe.
Though asbestos use has been dramatically diminished since the 1970s, when it was confirmed as the cause of mesothelioma, the truth is that it is still present in older buildings and infrastructure such as cement pipes.
Further, there are many newly-produced materials that are still permitted to incorporate the toxic set of minerals in their manufacturing process. This means that there is still plenty of risk of inhaling asbestos fibers and becoming sickened.
One of the biggest concerns that health experts are voicing is the danger posed by home renovations being done by do-it-yourselfers or contractors who haven’t been properly trained in asbestos removal.
Older homes and buildings were frequently outfitted with asbestos insulation that the average person might not recognize as hazardous. According to Dr. Jill Ohar, a director of pulmonary rehab and professor of pulmonology at Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center, “Most exposure comes from destruction or demolition of old asbestos-containing materials. Therefore, it is important to approach household renovations with great care.”
What’s a homeowner to do?
One of the biggest problems is that people begin demolition without realizing that asbestos may be present, and that leaves them in a critical situation once it has been exposed.
Jill Dyken, an environmental health scientist at the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry in Atlanta, stated that one of the most important things a homeowner can do is to learn how old their home is. That will give a strong indication of whether there is risk for asbestos materials to be present.
Dyken also suggested contacting a state or local environmental agency about any materials that cause concern. She said to make sure that if asbestos is found, homeowners hire contractors who are specifically trained and licensed in handling the carcinogen.
“Those companies can use safe removal methods to avoid contaminating the whole house with asbestos.”
Mesothelioma and other asbestos-related diseases are likely to be with us for decades to come. Though environmental specialists work to raise awareness and physicians and researchers continue their search for a cure, roughly 3,500 people will be newly diagnosed with mesothelioma every year.
In most cases the illness will sneak up on them, caused by an asbestos exposure that took place decades earlier.