Chances are if you live in a home built before 1970 and it has not undergone renovations, you could have asbestos in your home. When the Mesothelioma and Asbestos Awareness Center contacted me to help them bring attention to the dangers of asbestos, I knew I had to talk about it. I have a personal awareness to asbestos and its exposure risks. For 7-8 years, Errol worked for a company that, among doing other things, performed asbestos abatement. Because of this, I have some knowledge about how dangerous asbestos can be and in how many numerous places it can be found. Without it, I'd probably be like most of the population and know asbestos is bad (but not really why) and that it causes Mesothelioma based on some tv commercial.
Asbestos is a fiber mineral that is heat resistant and very durable. Due to these properties, asbestos was used for many years in many industries. The strength of asbestos, combined with its resistance to heat, allowed it to become the material of choice in a variety of products, including, but not limited to, roofing shingles, floor tiles, ceiling materials, cement compounds, textile products and automotive parts. The fiberous particles are microscopic and easily inhaled. Upon inhalation, these fibers cling to your lungs. The particles are spiked and adhere to your lung lining and don't leave. The problem with asbestos expsoure is kind of like if you were a long term smoker, you don't know/see the effects until years later. In the case of asbestos exposure, it might be 20-50 years. Since 1970, asbestos has been listed as a carcinogen and is closely monitored by the EPA.
While there is no safe level of exposure, not all asbestos products are immediately harmful; you must breathe in the particles for it to be hazardous. More stable items like tile or house siding are not as dangerous, while piping can have lots of particles being shed off. These particles, when inhaled, can lead to a mesothelioma diagnosis after that 20-50 year latency period. The fibers lodge into the mesothelial tissue which can cause tumors eventually. This is a extremely rare cancer but also 100% preventable!
A few years ago, Errol and I went to look at a house to rent. When we were touring the house, the landlord brought us into the basement. Like most basements, it had piping on the ceiling. It wasn't a completely finished basement but the washer/dryer was located down there and you can tell it was previously used as some sort of play or rec area. Errol immediately noticed the asbestos piping and that it was all over the ground where the pipes were. The pipes were over the washing machine and you could see a layer of the material on and around the area. He mentioned it to the lady and she pretty much blew it off. She acknowledged that it was asbestos but tried to act like it was no big deal. I was shocked that someone would put other people's health at risk, especially as it looked to the case, young children. And the thing is, if Errol hadn't had that knowledge, we would never have really known just how bad that situation was. Could you tell if the pipes in your basement contain asbestos?
The next time you go to buy a house or start a home renovation project, make sure you are aware of what your house actually contains.
I found the MAAC site to be a good resource of where asbestos could potentially be hiding in your home.
- Insulation materials for pipes and furnaces, and attic insulation
- Asbestos and cement shingles
- Siding and roofing tiles
- Soundproofing applications
- Plaster and joint compounds
- Some plastics, including paints and adhesives
- Casings for electrical wires
- Some floor tiles and flooring adhesives