Where Is This Asbestos They Keep Talking About?

Where Is This Asbestos They Keep Talking About?

For many people, the word ‘asbestos’ triggers the same level of fear as the word ‘cancer’. This is not surprising, since asbestos can cause a very insidious, hard-to-detect form of cancer of the mesothelial (membranous) tissues which progresses – usually undiagnosed – for three or more decades before the symptoms become so severe a diagnosis is unavoidable.

Most often located in the lining of the lungs, and called pleural mesothelioma (or malignant pleural mesothelioma; MPM), it can also occur in the lining which protects the heart (pericardial mesothelioma), the reproductive organs (tunica vaginalis testis in both males and females), and the abdominal organs (peritoneal mesothelioma).

Used during most of the 20th century, in both residential and commercial construction, asbestos was valued for its superb insulative properties and its ability to resist chemical degradation. In fact, it wasn’t until the mid-1970s that health professionals began noting the links between asbestos exposure and the various types of mesothelioma.

Cheap, abundant and durable, asbestos seemed like every building contractor’s magic fairy dust – a reputation inspired by the myriad ways in which asbestos could be used. These include:

  • Roofing shingles
  • Siding shingles
  • Textured paint
  • Drywall and plaster patching compounds
  • Stove-top hot pads
  • Oven gloves
  • Artificial ashes and embers in gas-fired fireplaces
  • Floors and walls surrounding woodburning stoves
  • Door gaskets on oil and coal furnaces and woodburning stoves
  • Pipe wrap on hot water and steam (heating) pipes in older homes
  • Vinyl flooring and the backing on vinyl sheet flooring
  • Adhesives used to install floor tiles
  • Spray-on soundproofing or decorative texturing in residential and commercial buildings
  • Ironing board covers
  • Hairdryers
  • Automobile brake pads, brake linings, clutch facings and gaskets

Mesothelioma is one of the “silent killer” diseases, largely because diagnosis is hampered by its tendency to mimic other illnesses – like asthma, bronchitis and allergies – so that MPM is more often discovered during routine physicals or examinations for other health problems than as a targeted concern.

Once MPM is diagnosed, patients usually succumb to the cancer within 14 months. There is no cure for mesothelioma, and none of the agencies responsible for monitoring health and safety (OSHA, the CDC, and the American Cancer Society) has ever established minimum, safe levels of exposure. A day or a lifetime can trigger mesothelioma.

In spite of its confirmed lethality, a 1989 ban by the Environmental Protection Agency was overturned in a 1991 court hearing in Louisiana, and products containing asbestos can still be found in the United States!

What can you do to protect your loved ones? You can hire an indoor air testing firm to see if asbestos has gotten into the atmosphere. Or you can test yourself. You can also scrape up pinches of material you suspect is asbestos and send it to a licensed laboratory with experience in identifying asbestos.

Once asbestos has been identified, you should call an asbestos remediation contractor, who will likely encapsulate the substance, most commonly by spraying on a compound that seals the fibers in place.

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