It’s not enough to rely on luck when it comes to asbestos exposure. Knowing the risks and taking the right steps is a matter of life and death.
Asbestos is dangerous because tiny fibers of the toxic mineral can accumulate in your lungs, causing illness later in life. For most of the 20th century, asbestos was an ingredient in almost all construction materials. Because working on such old materials releases asbestos into the air, only trained professionals should test, seal or remove materials that may contain asbestos. If you suspect you have a history of hazardous asbestos exposure, talk to your doctor and monitor your health closely.
Know the Health Risks
Hazardous asbestos exposure usually occurs when microscopic fibers of the mineral are released into the air during construction or demolition activities. You can inhale asbestos even while wearing a standard dust mask, and because asbestos exposure causes no immediate symptoms, you may unknowingly prolong the exposure, causing more and more asbestos to accumulate in your lungs.
Asbestos fibers cause scarring and inflammation in the lungs, eventually leading to genetic damage that can cause mesothelioma cancer.
Watch Out for Old Materials
Asbestos was ubiquitous in construction materials manufactured from the 1930s until the 1980s, including drywall, vinyl floor tiles, roof shingles and cement. Asbestos was especially popular in insulation, finding its way into popcorn ceiling treatments, wrappings for hot-water pipes and vermiculite pebbles used for wall and attic insulation.
Asbestos can also be found in mechanical components such as brakes, clutches and gaskets in cars. The dust created by automobile brake pads may be a risk for asbestos exposure.
Keep Asbestos Out of the Air
Simply stepping on or touching a solid material containing asbestos does not put you at risk for dangerous exposure. In fact, if there is little possibility of the material degrading or being disturbed, often it is safest just to leave the material alone.
The danger arises from cutting, sanding, scraping, drilling or smashing any material containing asbestos. Materials deteriorating from age or wear-and-tear may also release asbestos, and you should wipe away any contaminated dust with a wet cloth rather than sweeping or vacuuming it.
If repairs are necessary, or you wish to do renovation work, rely on professionals to identify asbestos and determine what to do about it. If you have any doubt about whether a material contains asbestos, have it tested first.
Leave It to the Professionals
In most places, only trained specialists are legally permitted to seal or remove materials containing asbestos, and it is safest to let them collect the samples for testing as well.
If you are a professional hired to do repairs or renovations, make sure your employer follows government regulations and has policies and procedures in place to prevent asbestos exposure. Employer negligence leading to occupational asbestos exposure has caused many workers to suffer later in life, and many companies have gone bankrupt from lawsuits.
Monitor Your Health
If you suspect you were exposed to asbestos, talk to your doctor about the risks and get screened for asbestos-related illnesses on an annual basis. Regular screening can potentially allow you to catch any illness in an early stage, when treatment can be much more effective.
Also, if you have a history of asbestos exposure, you should seek out medical professionals who specialize in asbestos-related illnesses.