Asbestos Hazards Overview

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If you are considering buying or selling a home that was built before the 1980s, you should be aware of the possibility of asbestos presence in the house. Back in those days, asbestos was a popular building material. Today, we know the health hazards it presents. Read this article to learn about the hazards of Asbestos, how it can affect human health, and what you can do to identify and mitigate it.

What is Asbestos and Why Should Homeowners Care?

Asbestos is a mineral fiber that has been widely used in many products because of its excellent heat resistance, durability, and low cost. However, all these winning characteristics that made asbestos a raw material of choice for thousands of products come at a great cost—human health.

How Does Asbestos Affect Human Health?

Asbestos fibers are microscopic and odorless materials that could pose several health risks once they are inhaled or ingested. When the fibers enter the body, they could get lodged in the mucous membranes of the nose, lungs, or digestive tracts where it could cause serious problems. Some health problems that could arise include:

Mesothelioma

This is a malignant tumor that affects the mesothelial tissue, the thin membrane lining of the lungs, heart, and abdomen. Most, if not all, cases of mesothelioma are associated with exposure to asbestos fibers. Thus, people who work in asbestos factories, mines, and mills have an increased risk for this disease.

This type of cancer is very rare. And people working or living in an environment where there are abnormally high quantities of airborne asbestos are in danger of developing this tumor.

Asbestosis

Prolonged and constant exposure to asbestos fiber can cause scarring of the lungs in a condition known as asbestosis. This chronic respiratory disease is a result of inhaled asbestos fibers. The fibers will cause inflammation in the lungs and symptoms usually appears only after continued exposure.

Unfortunately, this condition can’t be cured. The treatment plan includes the management of symptoms and interventions that prevent the fast progression of the disease. Complications could include heart failure, lung cancer, and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease.

Lung Cancer

According to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, lung cancer is one of the greatest health risks for people working in an environment with asbestos hazards. Furthermore, asbestos exposure coupled with other carcinogens like cigarette smoke is 90% more likely to develop lung cancer than people who are not exposed to either substances.

Other Types of Cancers

According to the American Cancer Society, exposure to asbestos is linked to an increased risk of laryngeal and ovarian cancer. Inhaled fibers can get lodged on the voice box (larynx) as air makes its way to the lungs. Along with other factors like excessive alcohol consumption and smoking, the risk becomes even more significant.

In addition, asbestos is thought to cause ovarian cancer as well. Here is an example of lawsuit from women who alleged that asbestos found in talc powder caused their ovarian cancer.

Which Part of the House Could It Be Found?

Knowing the dire consequences that asbestos exposure could cause, it behooves you as a seller or buyer to ensure that the property is properly inspected before the deal is inked. 

Asbestos was widely used in over 3,000 products across different industries from 1930 to 1970. While the use of this toxic material has waned after the 1970s, traces of the toxic substance could still be found in buildings and homes built within those time periods when asbestos use was at its peak. Furthermore, contrary to popular belief, there’s no total asbestos ban so even newer properties may still have traces of asbestos in different construction materials. 

In particular, asbestos inspection will most likely focus on key parts of the house, such as:

  • Insulation of houses built from 1930 to 1950.
  • Textured paint on houses painted before 1977. 
  • Vinyl floor tiles, sheets, and adhesives
  • Asbestos cement used in siding shingles and roofing.
  • Steam pipes, furnace, and other surfaces near wood-burning stoves since they’re most likely protected from the heat with asbestos paper or cement sheets.

Additionally, asbestos is also used in common everyday products like bricks, clothes, curtains, blankets, ironing board, and mitts to fireproof them. While these products may no longer be produced using the toxic material, they could be lying around old homes. When these products disintegrate, they could release asbestos fiber in the air.

How Is an Asbestos Inspection Done?

The risk of asbestos exposure is that it can have lasting adverse effects. Professionals trained in asbestos inspection usually assess the condition of a house based on a thorough visual examination of different parts of the property. They will also take samples of suspected materials around the house, send it to an asbestos analysis laboratory for testing, and make recommendations based on the findings.

If you’re planning to have a house inspected for asbestos, here are a few safety tips:

  • Shut off the HVAC system prior to the inspection. This is to prevent the spread of asbestos fiber being released into the air should any sample from suspected material test positive.
  • Do not disturb any suspected material prior to the inspection. Allow the professionals to handle it as they’re trained to safely collect samples.
  • Make sure no one else is in the room when the sample is collected other than the asbestos professional.
  • Make sure the area where the sample is collected is properly patched or sealed to prevent the release of asbestos fibers.
  • Be proactive in asking for updates on the result and talk with the inspector on the best course of action based on the findings of the laboratory.

Make sure that you hire the services of an experienced and reputable inspector and they should be able to give you credentials like an EPA-approved training and certification. Some states require asbestos inspectors to go through courses and training before they can be accredited.

If Asbestos is Found, What Now?

Corrective action is needed if the test comes back positive for asbestos. You will need to hire the services of asbestos abatement contractor to do the proper repairs. To make sure you deal with the best person for the job, ask for the contractor’s credentials and check with your local air pollution control board and the Better Business Bureau.

Here are a few safety tips to keep in mind before and during corrective work:

  • The contractor should use only approved equipment and proper protective clothing for the job.
  • Make sure that you have a written contract that details the full scope of work done. 
  • Your contractor should seal off the affected area before getting to work to avoid contaminating other parts of the house.
  • Don’t allow anyone near the hazardous area until after the work is complete.
  • Your contractor should properly clean up the area after work is done. Have someone who is not connected to the contractor monitor the air quality after to ensure a job well done.

Whether you’re buying, selling, or renovating an old house, safety should be first and it should never be compromised for whatever reason. And while asbestos inspection may be an additional expense on the ledger, this procedure can secure for you something that you can’t put a value on—your peace of mind.