Wednesday, August 2, 2017

Asbestos: The Ticking Time Bomb


 What Is Asbestos?


Turns out it's found naturally in rock and the fibers are extracted and then mixed with other things, like concrete. Asbestos is "wonderful stuff" when you consider its properties. It is strong, flexible and resistant to heat, weather and most chemicals. Asbestos is so versatile and durable that it found its way into thousands of products and places between the 1940s and 1980s. More than 3,000 products contain asbestos, but most people just think of it as being in the garage roof, or in their ceiling tiles. The reality is it gets used in all sorts of things, like in concrete to make it stronger or in pipe lagging because of its insulation properties. We even used to coat car parts with it, and make fire blankets with it because it’s flame retardant. The scary part is much of it remains in public buildings and homes today.

There are three types of Asbestos: brown, blue and white. Brown and blue asbestos are amphibole fibers, which means the fibers themselves are like needles. They’re resistant to everything, including water, fire, electricity and sound. For that reason they are mostly used in ceiling tiles, drywall textures, bath panels and have been sprayed on car parts. Both brown and blue asbestos were the first to be banned in many countries. White asbestos, Chrysotile, is best for weaving because its fibers are curly. That’s the fiber that’s used in concrete, what your garage roof is made of, you can find it hiding in your walls, and it makes up the vast majority of asbestos found today.

Exposure Concerns?


Evidence of the deadly toll the mineral takes on human health was mounting all along. The first documented case of asbestos-related death appeared in 1906. A 1918 document noted that asbestos workers were generally rejected as customers by the Canadian and U.S. insurance industry. By the 1970s, health concerns prompted some countries to limit use of asbestos or ban it outright, causing demand to wane. The most common result of asbestos exposure is a lung disease called mesothelioma. It attacks the lining of the lungs (pleural mesothelioma). Once diagnosed, victims are generally given between six months and a year to live.

Mesothelioma is developing in waves. The first wave was miners, mill workers and ship builders, who worked in the post-Second World War asbestos boom times and came home caked with dust.
Now different sorts of workers are getting sick. They include people who work with asbestos products: carpenters, electricians, car mechanics, plumbers, caretakers and factory workers. Another wave is family members — “bystanders,” in medical parlance — who are dying from the equivalent of second-hand smoke: Victims include spouses who washed dusty clothes and children who snuggled with parents after work.

What's Being Done? 


The World Health Organization – which declared asbestos a carcinogen in 1987 – says all forms of asbestos cause lung cancer, mesothelioma and other cancers, as well as asbestosis. It says the most efficient way to eliminate these diseases is to stop the use of asbestos. Many countries have follow suit from the European Union to the Persian Gulf, from industrial states like Japan to Africa’s developing economies, 61 nations have banned asbestos, according to the International Ban Asbestos Secretariat.

Some nations exempt minor uses. Notable exceptions that still permit asbestos use are China, Russia, India, Brazil, Canada and the United States. Canada plans to ban asbestos use by 2018, in what many health advocates hail as a victory for public health, albeit one that is long overdue. Banning new production and use of Asbestos is definitely a step in the right direction, unfortunately it does not prevent exposure to the materials already in our homes and public buildings.

Best Line Of Defense?  


Education and caution! Best way to avoid exposure is to know how harmful exposure is caused. The most common source of exposure is from contaminated dust in the air that is breathed in. How is the dust created? Buy drilling, sanding, cutting or disturbing materials that contain Asbestos. Other than occupational exposure older home and building renovation can cause exposure to Asbestos.

If removal of materials that contain asbestos is the preferred option hiring a certified professional to complete the work is the safest choice. If DIY is your only option work safe. For some materials building over top instead of disturbing by removal is a safer option. For other materials that require removal like damaged drywall texture test before you touch!

Here is some more info on safe drywall texture removal  

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  2. I as a building inspector find asbestos as insulation (either the entire duct system, just the supply boots, or around the plenums) in 40% of all homes. As with most older duct systems, they are at average 28% leaky which is an exposure to the living space. Do you have any statistics on how much asbestos that the residents are exposed to?

    1. Asbestos in some form is in millions of homes, but I haven't been able to find statistics on the health effects of asbestos exposure in the home. That doesn't mean they aren't there, but the cases of health problems from occupational exposure dominate.

      That doesn't mean you have nothing to worry about, but I think the National Cancer Institute's view is one to keep in mind:

      Everyone is exposed to asbestos at some time during their life. Low levels of asbestos are present in the air, water, and soil. However, most people do not become ill from their exposure. People who become ill from asbestos are usually those who are exposed to it on a regular basis, most often in a job where they work directly with the material or through substantial environmental contact.

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