Photo by Natalie Blackburn
Whether you’re a current homeowner, or a prospective homebuyer, you have probably heard about asbestos. This fibrous mineral that has been mined for centuries and used for its heat and fire resistant properties can be linked to diseases including asbestosis and mesothelioma.
There is a misconception today that asbestos has been banned and there is no longer much of a danger posed by asbestos. However, the opposite seems to be the truth — despite limited use since the early 1980s, there has continued to be a lasting impact over the last 30 years.
You might find yourself wondering, should I buy a house with asbestos in it? What if my home already has asbestos? Is it safe for my family? This article will provide all you need to know about asbestos along with advice on how to move forward with it in a home.
History of Asbestos and It’ Health Effects
Asbestos was used frequently in buildings and homes built before the 1980s for its heat and fire-resistant properties. Combined with its’ natural strength, asbestos became the go-to material used at military bases, schools, homes, automobiles, and commercial and industrial sites.
Since 1970, the use of asbestos has declined due to evidence that it was leading to human health and safety. With millions of people affected, the amount of asbestos used has been cut down to about 30 millions pounds a year. Despite this cutback, asbestos is still the number one cause of occupational cancer in the United States.
The problem with asbestos is that its fibers are so small and strong, when they become airborne they can easily get inhaled. Due to their strength they go into the body as is, and can become lodged into the soft tissue of the lung. Scar tissue and cancerous cells can then start to form, leading to a number of illnesses.
Asbestos has been directly tied to diseases such as asbestosis, lung cancer and mesothelioma. Mesothelioma most commonly develops in the lungs, but can also begin in the heart or abdomen. The symptoms of these diseases can often times take twenty to fifty years to fully show, which in turns leads to a grim prognosis. Most people who are diagnosed are given approximately 12-21 months to live.
Where Can Asbestos Be Found in Homes?
As mentioned earlier, despite cutbacks on the use of asbestos, it is still very common for a house to contain asbestos. In addition, any home built before the early 1980s is more likely to have asbestos somewhere in the home. The EPA estimates around a total of 30 million homes in the USA alone still contain some sort of asbestos in it.
The main areas asbestos can be found in your home are:
• Duct system
• Floor or ceiling tiles
• Vermiculite insulation in attics and walls
• Roofing materials
• Window caulking and glazing
When used in any of these areas, asbestos is essentially harmless when properly enclosed and installed. However, the risk being that homes wear down over time, and if any amount of asbestos becomes exposed, it will become airborne and be likely inhaled.
What to Do if You Find Asbestos
The best advice is to stay calm, and be cognizant of any potential asbestos materials in your home. Identify potential problem areas and get in contact with a professional as soon as possible.
Whether you’re a homeowner, looking to buy a home, or even renting, it’s best practice to inquire about asbestos that could be in your home. The average cost is about $566 for a qualified inspector to come check for asbestos. It’s important to remember to never try to test for asbestos or remove asbestos on your own. Doing so requires proper training and the proper use of respirators and HAZMAT suits.
The most important part in owning, buying or renting a home is making sure that is safe for you and your family. Always keep asbestos in mind, along with other toxins like radon and lead, when considering your home.
A simple call to have a professional double check is a small price to pay in the grand scheme of things. Your health comes first, so always do you due diligence of keeping your home healthy as well.
Jacob Lunduski is a community outreach team member at the Mesothelioma Cancer Alliance, and part of a team that strives to raise awareness around the dangers of asbestos.