Would you believe me if I told you that there is a cancer causing substance lurking in about 30 million homes and about 800,000 schools and commercial buildings? Unfortunately, this is true. Asbestos, a known human carcinogen, was produced and used in the US between the 1930s-70’s as an additive for many common building materials. It was used in many flooring, insulation, roofing and adhesive. Although asbestos production ended by 1980, many homes still have asbestos containing products in them. Asbestos is completely harmless if it is not disturbed. The problem is that once it is broken apart it becomes airborne, and those working around it can inhale or ingest fibers, and they are at risk for many health problems. This commonly happens during home destruction, construction and DIY renovation projects in the home. So how do you know if your home contains asbestos, or if you have been exposed?
How Safe is Your Older Home? The Dangers of Asbestos
Image via: This Old House
How Safe is Your Home? The Dangers of Asbestos
I would like to introduce Heather Von St. James, an eight year mesothelioma survivor. Heather was exposed to asbestos when she was a little girl by wearing her father’s work jacket to do outside chores. Her father worked in construction and demolition, and he would come home covered head to toe in dust. Little did they know, that dust was a deadly substance, that would almost take Heather’s life down the road. Heather was diagnosed with pleural mesothelioma just months after the birth of her only child, Lily. She was given just 15 months to live, but after treatments and a surgery to remove her left lung, Heather is now one of the very few survivors of mesothelioma.
This week I had the chance to interview Heather, and I asked her some questions about asbestos, and how we can keep our homes and families safe from it.
What is asbestos?
Asbestos is a naturally occurring mineral that is mined from deposits in the earth. It was used heavily in the mid century for strengthening and fireproofing things like cement, and construction materials.
How do you become exposed to asbestos?
Exposure from asbestos happens when the mineral is mined, or when products containing asbestos are disturbed or disrupted. Many homes and businesses built before 1980 most likely contain asbestos somewhere, whether it be in insulation around pipes or in attics, or in ceiling or floor tiles. These building products are only harmful if they are disturbed, as in during renovation or remodeling. Asbestos is only dangerous when it is friable, meaning when the asbestos fibers are airborne. It is breathing in or swallowing the fibers that causes the cancer 20-50 years after the exposure.
Image via: Home Design
What are the health problems associated to asbestos exposure?
Asbestosis, or thickening of the pleura, and mesothelioma are the two most serious problems. It has also been associated with renal cancer, lung cancer, uterine and testicular cancers.
What are some symptoms of mesothelioma to look out for?
About 60% of patients diagnosed with pleural mesothelioma experience lower back pain or side chest pain, and there are frequent reports of shortness of breath. Some people may experience difficulty swallowing, or have a persistent cough, fever, weight loss or fatigue. Additional symptoms that some patients experience are muscle weakness, loss of sensory capability, coughing up blood, facial and arm swelling, and hoarseness.
Peritoneal mesothelioma originates in the abdomen and as a result, symptoms often include abdominal pain, weight loss, nausea, and vomiting. Fluid buildup may occur in the abdomen as well as a result of the cancer.
Image via: Mesothelioma.com
What should I do if I have asbestos in my home?
Leave it alone first and foremost. If you suspect asbestos is present call a certified professional to come and test the item. If you do discover asbestos, have it abated by a professional company. You can find them by contacting your state environmental agency. Do NOT attempt to remove it yourself. Professional abatement companies have been trained with the correct procedure to remove it from your home in the safest way possible. For more information regarding asbestos in the home, please visit Mesothelioma.com
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