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Asbestos May be Associated with the Past but it can still be a Present Danger

Guest blog by Barbara Wells - a mesothelioma researcher

Most products that are made today do not contain asbestos but it was a very different story up until the 1970’s. Asbestos was commonly used in many types of building products and insulation materials that were used to construct the houses that many of us live in today.

According to American Cancer Society, about 4 percent of all cancers in the U.S. are related to occupational exposure to cancer-causing substances. Towards the end of the 1970’s, the U.S Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) finally banned the use of asbestos in wallboard patching compounds, but it was not actually until 1989 that the EPA issued a final ruling that saw a ban on virtually every product that contained asbestos.

Asbestos was a common mineral used in many heat-resistant building materials. It was first mined in the 1800s and came into wide use in US building materials and insulation during the 1940s. At the time asbestos was the material of choice because of its resistance to heat. This made it the perfect fire proofing and insulation material. However, new studies and cases showed the adverse effect of exposure to aging asbestos containing materials. According to the EPA, studies found a strong link between asbestos exposure and mesothelioma cancer.

Asbestos has been used extensively within a number of industries and in addition to the construction industry using it as a way of strengthening cement and plastics as well as for insulation and fireproofing, shipbuilders used asbestos to insulate boilers and steam pipes, whilst the automotive industry used asbestos in vehicle brake shoes and clutch pads.

There are in excess of 5,000 products that are known to contain or have previously contained asbestos, so to help evaluate and reduce the risk to your family within your own environment, here are the most likely sources of asbestos-containing materials that may potentially still be present in your home, depending on the age of your property.

Insulation

Insulation is a common place for asbestos containing materials. This includes insulation in walls as well as the attic. In most cases the exposure risk is minimal as long as the material isn't exposed to open air. Take necessary precautions if there are any holes or broken down sections of wall. Also limit access to attic areas as insulation in most home attics isn't covered. Asbestos is dangerous since its fine fibers stay suspended in the air for long periods of time. It's also important to have a professional check and see if asbestos-containing insulation in your home has started decomposing, as this increases the risk of exposure.

Shingles

If you have a home with shingle siding built between the 1940s and 1970s, it likely has asbestos either in it or in the paint. To reduce the chances of young children ingesting chips from shingles and paint, check for chipping and breakdown of the shingle material. If you find this happening, contact the proper professionals to get it removed and replaced with safer materials. At the same time, be aware that in many cases the exposure risk stays minimal if no major breakdown occurs.

Furnace and Pipes

If your home has an old furnace and plumbing for hot water, they likely have asbestos insulation. Since heating systems are often in the basement or an out-of-the-way closet, the exposure risk is low. However, take precautions to prevent access by younger members of the household. Also do periodic checks to look for wear or tear that can increase exposure risks.

Limiting Exposure Risks

While asbestos is a potentially dangerous substance, exposure is normally low in well-kept homes. To reduce chances of exposure there are several steps that homeowners and building residents can take. The first is regular checks of areas with asbestos for wear and tear. If the areas are in good condition, the chances of asbestos exposure are very low. Next, make sure to limit access to areas with exposed asbestos until it's safely removed. Also, maintain a good ventilation system to keep air clear of potential asbestos fibers.

Taking these precautions can help prevent long-term exposure that can cause damage to lungs and possible exposure to cancer causing materials. Above all, stay informed about the building you live in.

For more information, please also visit the Mesothelioma Cancer Alliance at www.mesothelioma.com

Barbara Wells is a mesothelioma researcher. She enjoys sharing her research on mesothelioma and asbestos exposure online through blogging.