This week is Global Asbestos Awareness Week, a time when people are encouraged to learn about how exposure to asbestos can cause irreversible damage to their lungs and organs. Asbestos exposure prevention is crucial, and Global Asbestos Awareness Week is a time to spread information about how people may come in contact with this substance.
Because of its abundant use in construction and building materials, there are plenty of places where you may encounter asbestos in your daily life, including your home, workplace, and even in your children’s schools. Below we’ve highlighted some of the most common places where asbestos is found, and have provided advice on what to do if you’ve been exposed.
What Is Asbestos?
Asbestos is a naturally occurring mineral fiber that can be found in rocks and soil. This mineral was originally seen as a super building material because it is lightweight, durable, fire-resistant, water-resistant, soundproof, and can easily pass these qualities to other materials when mixed together. For this reason, asbestos was a go-to material for insulation and other products that need to be temperature or moisture controlled.
Unfortunately, this miracle mineral is now known to cause a plethora of medical illnesses. Asbestos exposure has been linked to the risk of developing cancer, including mesothelioma. Mesothelioma has a lengthy latency period, taking anywhere from 10–50 years after initial exposure for symptoms to appear. The survival rate of mesothelioma is fairly low, with only about 12% of patients living after five years. This is why it’s so important to prevent asbestos exposure.
Below we’ve compiled a list of professions and places that are most likely to have brought you in contact with asbestos and asbestos-containing materials (ACMs), as well as the best way to reduce your risk of asbestos-related disease.
In Your Home
You’ve likely spent a great deal of time creating your home oasis and making your house as comfortable as possible. If your home was built before the 1980s, it’s possible that asbestos was used in its building materials. Many houses utilized ACMs during the construction process.
Asbestos can most commonly be found in the following places:
Popcorn or textured ceilings
Roof and side tiles
If you suspect that your home contains asbestos, the best thing to do is to leave it alone. ACMs that are in good condition are not inherently dangerous because the asbestos fibers are trapped in the material. Distributing asbestos fibers can cause them to release into the air, causing them to be breathed in and potentially ingested.
Beware of DIY projects that involve destroying, repairing, or replacing parts of your house that may contain asbestos. Consult with an asbestos abatement specialist for these types of projects. They’ll be able to assess if your home actually has asbestos and will be able to remove it in a way that does not pose a risk to your health.
The most common place that people come in contact with asbestos is on the job. Because asbestos was such an abundant substance in building materials, people who work with these materials regularly have the highest risk of asbestos exposure.
The professions that are most at risk include:
These jobs also pose a risk because you could potentially bring asbestos home with you on your clothing, your car, or even your hair. This can put your family at risk for asbestos-related diseases as well.
Even if you work at an office or retail job it’s important to remember that older commercial buildings were also made with ACMs. Asbestos can be found in similar areas in these buildings that they are found in homes; including floors, ceilings, walls, and water pipes. It is estimated that there are 3.5 million buildings that contain asbestos in the United States.
While it’s impossible to avoid all of these buildings, especially if you find yourself working in one, the best thing you can do is to keep an eye out for construction, repairs, or demolition of these buildings and to avoid them. You can find your state’s asbestos contacts to learn more about available trainings and have your questions answered.
Your children’s place of learning may also be an opportunity for asbestos exposure. Similar to houses and other commercial buildings, schools were built using asbestos-containing products in order to fireproof and prolong the longevity of the buildings.
The most common places you may find asbestos in schools are:
Popcorn Ceilings and textured paint
Heating and air ducts
It wasn’t until 1986 that the government started to require schools to inspect their facilities for ACMs, create plans for maintenance of these materials, and a response plan for dealing with hazardous materials. However, schools are not required to completely remove ACMs if they are in good condition.
Children are more susceptible to the dangers of asbestos than adults are. This is partly because they breathe at a faster rate than adults, as well as being more likely to behave in ways that put them at higher risk—such as putting things in their mouths and spending a lot of time on the floor where asbestos dust is likely to settle.
Adults who work in schools are also at risk of being exposed to this mineral. Teachers, principals, custodial workers, and lunch servers, are all at risk of developing an asbestos-related disease.
It’s important to remember that the mere presence of these materials is not inherently harmful to students and teachers. It is only when these materials start to crumble or deteriorate that they begin to pose a threat to your health.
If you’re worried about your children’s exposure to asbestos, you can contact your school’s administration to view their asbestos maintenance plan.
What To Do If You Find Asbestos
The best thing to do if you come across asbestos is to leave it be. Whether it be in your home or on the job, you should take great care not to disturb asbestos or ACMs to prevent the fibers from contaminating the air. Always consult with asbestos abatement professionals to ensure that any dangerous materials are removed effectively and safely.
The good news is that a one-off instance of light exposure does not guarantee that you will have future health complications. However, if you have been exposed to a lot of asbestos over a short period of time or you suspect you have had many years of asbestos exposure it’s important that you start talking with your doctor about your potential risk of developing an asbestos-related disease.