Doctors diagnose around 3,000 cases of mesothelioma every year, and most of them come from asbestos exposure in the workplace. A rare form of cancer that affects the lining of the lungs, chest cavity and abdomen, mesothelioma usually causes mild symptoms that resemble less serious illnesses in the early stages. By the time doctors find the illness, however, it has usually spread to other parts of the body.
Danger at Home and Work
Asbestos is a heat-resistant silica fiber used to make fire-resistant material and insulation. Bans on its use have lowered the incidence of cancer, but mesothelioma may not show up for 20 years or longer. New cases are still being diagnosed.
The major sites for carcinogen exposure in the past were in the military, in shipyards, on construction sites and at other industrial locations. Other cases resulted from secondary exposure by family members, from living near mines or from being exposed to old or damaged building materials or other items containing toxic fibers in the home. Ceiling tiles, flooring, insulation, old appliances and talcum powder were common sources. Even small items like hair dryers and bottle warmers posed a risk until the late 1980s.
Asbestos Testing at Home and Work
Most buildings built between 1920 and 1989 have fibers in the building materials, but they may also be found in gas heaters and home products. Newer items usually do not contain particles but are labeled if they do. Asbestos testing may be necessary under the following conditions:
• Areas that are coming apart, broken, cracked or dusty may be emitting airborne fibers.
• Materials that will be disturbed in construction or renovation may release dangerous particles.
• A trained professional must inspect the site before and during the work.
Removal from the Home or Workplace
Asbestos was widely used in homes and businesses from 1920 until it was banned in 1989. Any remodeling project or renovation on a building from that period could release fibers into the air and requires special precautions:
• A qualified professional must inspect the property.
• Residents need to stay away from the home if fibers are suspected.
• Sweeping, dusting and vacuuming should be avoided.
• There should be no sawing, drilling, sanding or scraping in suspected areas.
• A licensed contractor must follow a strict protocol.
• Adjacent areas of the home need to be sealed off to keep fibers out.
• Workers need special equipment and protective gear.
• After completion, the air should be monitored for particles.
• Safety officials recommend hiring trained professionals.
In early 2019, no federal regulations prevented homeowners from removing the material themselves, but the Environmental Protection Agency recommends against it. Regulations differ according to state, county or city regulation. Fans of home decorating shows may like to know that popcorn ceiling and textured paint contain dangerous fibers. Safety always comes first.