Asbestos is a naturally occurring mineral that has been used in building materials throughout much of the 20th century. While many thousands of building materials can include asbestos, asbestos exposure through building materials does not automatically occur just because these materials are present. In general, the building materials must be damaged to disturb the tiny asbestos fibers contained within. Disturbed asbestos fibers can disperse in the air around us and easily be inhaled or ingested. This is what leads to asbestos exposure becoming a health hazard.
In this article, we’ll explore some of the most common building materials that contain asbestos, the categories of asbestos, activities that can put you at risk of asbestos exposure, as well as the dangers of asbestos, and what to do if you’ve had asbestos exposure through building materials.
Asbestos is a highly affordable, flame and heat-retardant, sound-insulating mineral. Due to its efficacy and ease of use, asbestos is latent in over 3,000 building materials commonly found in homes, schools, and other buildings predating 1980. Some of these building materials include:
Thousands more building materials can include asbestos. What’s more, asbestos-containing materials are still being manufactured in China and other parts of the world despite the well-known dangers of long-term exposure.
The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) identified three primary categories of asbestos to inform how building materials are handled. These three categories are:
Depending on the asbestos level, or amount of asbestos found in the building material, it will need to be removed. A higher level requires removal by a certified asbestos abatement contractor and proper, OSHA-regulated disposal as a hazardous material. A lower level may still require removal by a certified asbestos abatement contractor but may not require the same type of disposal.
Anything lower than a 0.1% level does not require removal by a certified asbestos abatement company, but you may still wish to have it removed by professionals with good personal protective equipment and disposal policies. You should not remove any asbestos-containing materials on your own, especially if you suspect damage has occurred.
These asbestos levels are determined by a laboratory analysis of building material samples, which may be arranged during an asbestos survey with your local asbestos abatement contractor.
As mentioned above, the removal of asbestos-containing material by non-accredited professionals without proper protection and training is dangerous. Handling asbestos building materials that have been damaged by fire, flood, renovation, demolition, or other circumstances is also dangerous. Generally, any personal residence building including more than four dwelling units or outbuildings will require an asbestos inspection before renovation or demolition permission for just this reason.
Occupational asbestos exposure presents the greatest risk to individuals. Long-term exposure to compromised building sites and asbestos-containing building materials is a risk for:
In addition, residents of aging buildings and homes may also be at increased risk of asbestos exposure through building materials becoming more unstable over time.
The risk of asbestos exposure took many years to come to the surface. Early studies demonstrated links between lung cancer and other adverse health conditions, but asbestos-containing materials remained on the market. Now, we know that asbestos exposure is a determining factor in developing a rare and aggressive form of lung cancer, mesothelioma. In addition, asbestosis, and cancers of the larynx and ovary can also occur.
Asbestos exposure was determined to be the number one most fatal injury in a recent global appraisal of construction workers’ health and safety. More than 45,000 US workers alone have died due to mesothelioma from asbestos exposure between 1999-2015. More than 3,000 workers are diagnosed with mesothelioma each year. Most of these people survive less than one year.
The reason all these startling numbers did not come to light much earlier is that it takes many decades, upwards of 50 years, for mesothelioma to develop. This is why being proactive about any potential exposure via building materials is necessary. Even if the potential for asbestos exposure happened long ago, you can inform your medical provider and stay on top of regular exams and screenings.
If you believe your place of residence has asbestos-containing materials, do not disturb those building materials. If any damage occurs, seek out inspection, and if needed, abatement by a certified asbestos removal contractor. Remember, only qualified professionals should carry out the removal and disposal of asbestos-containing materials.
If you know you have been exposed to asbestos via building materials either on the job or in a place of residence, don’t wait to act. Consult with your primary care physician first. If you receive a diagnosis that may be linked to asbestos exposure through building materials, your next step is to enlist the support of an experienced asbestos attorney. You may be entitled to compensation for your asbestos-related illness. Receive your free case consultation to learn how we can help.