Asbestos fiber is made from naturally occurring silicate crystals. Its fire resistance and good insulating properties made it a popular building material until late in the 20th century when research pointed to it causing serious health problems.
Studies showed that exposure to asbestos significantly increased risks of many cancers, including mesothelioma. Even brief exposure to asbestos was shown to carry potentially serious health risks. The wave of damning data resulted in bans on asbestos use in construction and subsequent strict regulations governing its handling and disposal.
Asbestos is generally considered not to pose significant health risks when it is intact. However deterioration over time, damage resulting from construction or demolition, or removal of materials containing asbestos can launch microscopic asbestos fibers into the air, where people can breathe it into their lungs.
What are the health risks?
Diseases such as mesothelioma, asbestosis and lung cancer are typically slow-developing, but ultimately fatal. Historically, most patients didn’t know they were exposed to a dangerous carcinogen, so they only sought medical treatment when they began to experience symptoms years later in advanced stages of their ailments. A subway worker exposed to asbestos insulation in tunnels for years develops a hacking cough around retirement, is subsequently diagnosed with mesothelioma and dies a year later.
Fortunately, research and awareness leading to early screening have resulted in better outcomes for patients exposed to asbestos. The key to successful treatment is early detection, so if you believe you may have been exposed to asbestos fibers, consult medical assistance for screening.
How can I tell if my home or business contains asbestos?
Asbestos is banned for most construction uses, but it can still be found in older structures and a number of products. Some places to suspect the presence of materials containing asbestos include:
- Buildings constructed before 1990.
- Textured paint, sheetrock, popcorn ceilings.
- Roofing and siding materials.
- Insulation, especially in older structures. Notably, Zonolite Attic Insulation containing vermiculite.
- Artificial fireplace fixtures and logs.
- Protective material on walls and floors near stoves and furnaces.
- Floor and wall tiles.
- Pipe coatings and insulations.
- Furnace door and pipe gaskets.