If you spend hours each day in a home or commercial facility that contains asbestos, you and your fellow occupants could be risking your future health. Here are four important questions -- and their answers -- regarding this dangerous substance and how you should respond to its presence in your building.
1. Why Is Asbestos Dangerous?
Asbestos is a naturally occurring silicate. This mineral forms long, thin threads made up of tiny, needle-like fibers. The fibers do a great job of resisting both heat and fire, so for decades asbestos was used as an insulating material in homes and commercial buildings alike. Normal exposure to traces of asbestos of water, soil, or air aren't considered harmful. But asbestos can cause serious lung disease when inhaled in sufficient quantities -- and being surrounded by it for long periods of time provides a perfect incubator for:
- Mesothelioma - This form of cancer targets the abdominal and chest membranes.
- Asbestosis - This disease occurs when asbestos fibers scar the lung tissues and reduce your ability to take in oxygen.
- Lung cancer - Prolonged or intense asbestos exposure can cause lung cancer, especially in smokers.
2. Which Homes or Business Contain Asbestos?
If your home or commercial facility was built before the mid-1970s, and you're still using the building's original components, then you probably have asbestos wrapped around your pipes or boiler. But even if your structure dates from after this period, you could still have asbestos in your roofing, siding, floor tiles, window caulk, or air conditioner insulation. There's no way to tell for certain which buildings contain asbestos and which do not without a professional evaluation.
3. How Is Asbestos Removed?
Asbestos removal is a potentially hazardous activity that must be left to the experts. Any disturbance of asbestos materials can cause fibers to float into the air for ingestion. Never touch or move any materials you think might contain asbestos yourself.
A professional asbestos removal specialist will evaluate every inch of the property for signs of asbestos before making any recommendations for abatement. If there's a good chance that the removal process will crate lots of airborne fibers, the contractor who performs the work may have to obtain or possess a Health and Safety Executive license. Workers wear respirators and protective clothing to prevent exposure to the asbestos they remove. You may be forced to evacuate the affected area until the abatement process is complete.
4. When Can You Leave Asbestos in Place?
Despite its hazardous potential, the mere presence of asbestos doesn't necessarily constitute a emergency. Asbestos presents the greatest danger when there's a chance of its being disturbed, either by everyday occupant activities or by maintenance and remodeling work. When asbestos is tucked away where human beings or air currents have no chance of disturbing it, the fibers aren't likely to be kicked up and inhaled. Unfortunately, it's almost impossible to preserve those perfect conditions forever, even if you know for certain where the asbestos is located -- which is one of the reasons a professional asbestos evaluation is so important.
Your asbestos consultant may determine that the asbestos in your home or facility can be left where it is. In such cases, you may need to have it sealed with a substance that glues the fibers down into place permanently. Be aware, however, that if renovators saw through this material in the future, asbestos fibers may escape into the atmosphere.
As you can see, asbestos is a serious issue that requires professional intervention. Ask a local asbestos removal company to search your structure for asbestos and recommend the wisest course of action for keeping your occupants healthy and safe.