Asbestos in Older Homes

Who suffers from asbestos exposure?

Quite often, people think that only folks who have worked as a carpenter, electrician, plumber, roofer, welder, miner or boilermaker chance exposure to asbestos inhalation and a consequent diagnosis of mesothelioma. Unfortunately, this cancer is also caused by other factors than employment asbestos exposure. For example, a person may carry tiny bits of asbestos dust in their clothes and hair from their workplace into their home, even if they are required to change clothes before leaving work. Spouses or family members may therefore breathe in particles of asbestos which fall onto the household carpets and upholstery. Asbestos particles separate into thin fibers, dissipate and can be carried by air currents, over surprisingly long distances, so another potential threat is living in close proximity to a factory or mill which uses asbestos in manufacturing and thus releases amounts of it into the air. Danger is also present in older neighborhoods where businesses and older home are in the process of remodeling, also sending minute amounts of asbestos out of their premises. Perhaps the most surprising and shocking problem is when innocent homeowners themselves become victims of asbestos.

Why, when, and how was asbestos used?

Asbestos was used in numerous construction processes and materials up until the 1970’s. In fact, since it was considered the “miracle mineral”, it was eventually put into approximately 300 consumer products. That means that if an individual buys an older home, there is a good chance that there may be asbestos in the attic, roof or basement-unless past owners did their own remodeling and replacement.

Normally, asbestos was used in areas where there was a need for sound or weather insulation, so it was placed around pipes, beams, ducts, wiring, shingles, tiles, flooring, panels and partitions. It was also used around heaters, furnaces, boilers, barbecues and fireplaces. Many times it was sealed into its area and, as lone as it stays sealed, it’s not an immediate danger. However, problems occur when asbestos starts separating and floating into household air currents. This usually occurs when remodeling or repairing activities are taking place. Perhaps a home owner accidentally drills, sands, scrapes or otherwise dislodges the foundation at the base of asbestos, forcing it to crumble and break apart. This means that the asbestos itself will begin to break apart and start wafting into the air. Or, it could get onto the worker’s clothing or hair and be carried throughout the house, becoming wedged in any crevice or landing onto any flat surface, and possibly be inhaled.

The owner of an older home should check into the areas where asbestos may have been used, to make sure any noticeable asbestos is still sealed or intact. (Check with home supply stores to obtain proper protective equipment first.) If asbestos is obvious-usually gray or white, and soft and fluffy in appearance-the owner should beware of any loose particles. If there are, the owner should not attempt to wipe or vacuum the asbestos fibers but close the area, leaving clothing there or washing them and showering immediately. A call should then be made to local or state agencies, or professional and licensed asbestos handlers, who will visit and determine the degree of danger and whether the asbestos should be removed or repaired.

Why make so much fuss?

It’s wise to remember that the malignancy of asbestos is attributed to the body’s carcinogenic reaction to the tiny, complex asbestos fibers, which travel down small airways to the lungs, become lodged in lung lining and develop into pleural mesothelioma. Or, they may be swallowed, and upon aggravating the abdominal lining, cause peritoneal mesothelioma.

Asbestos fibers can remain in the body for up to 50 years, and often symptoms don’t even show up until then. By the time it is discovered that an individual’s body has been suffering the effects of asbestos (breathing, throat or stomach problems, weight loss, fatigue and weakness, or fever) the mesothelioma condition is usually quite advanced and may even be considered terminal, in the worst case scenario. However, there are many treatments available, from standard surgery, radiation and chemotherapy, to more advanced or alternative healing procedures.

What's next?

Since an individual may be the victim of mesothelioma without ever knowingly coming into contact with asbestos, it is important to see a doctor upon the first sign of symptoms.

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