What Construction Pros Need to Know About Asbestos
There is NO safe level of asbestos exposure. Find out what to look for before you start you start the demo phase of your next remodel.
Why Asbestos Problematic
Asbestos use in the United States has fallen drastically over the past several decades following the issuing of federal regulations designed to protect people from accidental exposure to the toxic mineral. Since then, safer alternatives have come onto the market, making it easier to construct and renovate homes without risking unnecessary exposure. But older homes, specifically those built before the mid-1970s, are still likely to contain asbestos as the mineral’s former use extends much farther than some people might think.
What is Asbestos?
Asbestos is a mineral fiber found in rock and soil. In its heyday, there were thousands of products that contained asbestos fibers. The mineral was cheap, durable and heat resistant, making it perfect for areas exposed to high temperatures and traffic such as:
- Duct insulation
- Floor and ceiling tiles
- Window glazing
What if I Come Into Contact?
If you come into contact with asbestos-containing materials (ACM), do not touch them, step on them or try to remove them on your own. Asbestos fibers are incredibly small and invisible to the naked eye. If you damage ACMs while performing demolition work, sanding or cutting, the fibers may become airborne and enter your lungs. Once in your body, the fibers could become trapped in the lining of the lungs, heart or abdomen, and could cause diseases like lung cancer, asbestosis or mesothelioma decades later.
If you think there might be asbestos in an area, have an inspector come out to assess the situation and determine what actions need to be taken. In some cases, ACMs may be considered safe if they are in good condition. In others, those materials may need to be encapsulated or removed.
What If I’ve Been Exposed?
Construction workers, carpenters, plumbers and electricians may all come into close contact with ACMs while working in older homes and buildings. Although there are no safe levels of asbestos exposure, there are Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) guidelines in place to protect workers from exposure. They include requiring employers to provide proper personal protective equipment and take action to reduce workplace asbestos levels to legal levels.
Unfortunately, there is not much you can do after being exposed to asbestos fibers. Employers are required to provide employees with medical monitoring in cases where they have been exposed to high levels of asbestos or levels past the legal limit. However, the latency period for mesothelioma is 10-50 years and is often not caught until its late stages when treatment options are limited. So the key is to Avoid, Avoid, Avoid!
About the expert:
Charles MacGreggor is the Community Engagement Specialist for the Mesothelioma Cancer Alliance.