Today is a guest post from Lydia Miller.
Recently we purchased a hundred year old farmhouse, complete with lead paint, shag green carpet from the seventies and new safety challenges. I regularly adhere to the common sense safety precautions: wear the Mr. Wizard glasses, use a respirator, and turn the right breaker off before replacing light fixtures. Fortunately, we were warned before we began any major renovations about possible asbestos exposure. I had heard of asbestos before and mesothelioma, the cancer it causes, but I thought of asbestos as a rare and industrial concern, certainly not something to be worried about in my house. Well, I have learned different! Asbestos exposure, and therefore mesothelioma, is a present and serious concern in millions of homes across the US.
Asbestos began making its way in American industry in the 1920s, being used in everything from insulation to paint stabilizer. Resistant to fire and extremely durable, asbestos became a staple building material in shipbuilding, refineries, munitions manufacturing, and of course commercial and residential construction. In fact, asbestos was so heavily used, it earned the nickname ‘backbone of American industry.’
Health risks associated with asbestos were considered soon after its American debut. However, malignant mesothelioma, the disease most commonly associated with toxic asbestos fibers, stays dormant for so many years after asbestos exposure it was nearly impossible to connect the two. Making it even more difficult, mesothelioma symptoms mimic those of bronchitis and pneumonia, inhibiting a mesothelioma diagnosis in the early 1900s and often postponing proper diagnosis today.
Once asbestos fibers are inhaled, they can begin a cancerous growth process that takes decades to develop. Pleural mesothelioma is the most common type of mesothelioma, specific to lung lining. After diagnosis, mesothelioma life expectancy ranges between six months and two years. Mesothelioma treatments include surgeries, chemotherapy and radiation therapies. Currently there is no known cure for mesothelioma.
So… how do we avoid asbestos exposure in our homes? Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) outlines responsibilities associated with asbestos in their Clean Air Act. Also, EPA has published a list of materials known to contain asbestos, which is helpful to review before beginning any project.
If your home was built before the 1980s, there’s a good chance at least some of the components used or added through the years contain asbestos. If you’re not sure about a material or project, contact a professional asbestos abatement specialist! No matter the financial or aesthetic value gained in a completed DIY project, it is not worth the cost of you health or the health of a loved one.
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