Asbestos is a known carcinogen, causing a number of deadly respiratory conditions including mesothelioma. Asbestos was used widely for a number of commercial purposes throughout much of the 20th century, and although its use has been heavily restricted, it could still be lurking in many places, putting people at risk for exposure. There is no safe level of asbestos exposure, and homeowners must ensure that there is no asbestos in their homes to keep themselves and their families safe.
Many people know that asbestos is dangerous, but few people know what it is. Asbestos is a naturally occurring mineral that can be mined and is often found near deposits of talc. It cannot be recognized by sight, as it is either packed tightly into a product or a dust that is indistinguishable from other kinds of dust. Asbestos fibers are friable and break apart easily when the substance is disturbed in some way.
There are several qualities that make asbestos extremely useful: it is inexpensive, versatile, durable, and resistant to heat and flame. For decades, asbestos was considered an ideal additive in many types of construction materials, including drywall, floor and ceiling tiles, cement, paint, artificial embers, sealants, fabrics, adhesives, roof shingles, vinyl sheeting, and other products. It is particularly effective as insulation, both in walls and around furnaces and boilers. Buildings, cars, and boats contained asbestos products for many years. Asbestos is also used in consumer products, such as crayons, cosmetics, and personal care items.
The link between asbestos and deadly diseases was first observed before 1900, but it took many years to firmly establish asbestos as a carcinogen. Beginning in the early 1980s, the use of asbestos in construction became heavily regulated, though not entirely banned. However, most homes in the United States were constructed before 1980, and even homes that have been renovated may still contain some asbestos products.
Asbestos is most dangerous when it is airborne. A popcorn ceiling is not a hazard if it remains in place and does not get damaged. However, when asbestos materials are cut, sanded, broken, or improperly removed, the dust flies into the air or accumulates on surfaces around the home; this kind of disturbance can also happen with normal wear and tear. Airborne particles can be inhaled or ingested, and once they are in the body, they cannot be expelled. The spiky fibers become lodged in the chest and begin to damage the surrounding tissue, eventually leading to serious health concerns.
Testing for Asbestos in the Home
It is important for homeowners to defer to experts when it comes to asbestos. You will not be able to detect it yourself, and trying to remove it without the proper safety protocols can do more harm than good. If you suspect there is asbestos dust in your home, trying to vacuum it or clean it up yourself may disperse it into the air, putting you and your family at risk. Even the process of taking samples can kick up asbestos dust; therefore, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) recommends bringing in a state-certified testing company to conduct a thorough examination and check the materials around your home for asbestos. Once samples are collected, the company will seal the spot so that no other dust escapes, and if possible, ventilation systems should be shut off in that area in case of contamination.
Samples will be sent away to a laboratory for either polarized light microscopy (PLM) or transmission electron microscopy (TEM) to reveal whether asbestos is present. If asbestos is detected, a professional asbestos abatement company can seal off areas that are affected, dampen the material with water or detergent to prevent dust from spreading, and use HEPA vacuums to remove it without dispersing it. These companies have the proper safety gear to ensure that their employees are not at risk of inhaling asbestos as they work.
Homeowners who are concerned about their air quality can have other tests performed. Phase-contrast microscopy (PCM) is an effective tool for measuring overall air purity, detecting the number of fibers in the air. An air sample is taken with a collection filter and exposed to a polarized light microscope to determine the number of fibers present. However, PCM is not particularly sensitive and cannot distinguish asbestos fibers from other types of particulates. PCM can also miss the smallest asbestos fibers. This test is most effective for people who already know there is asbestos in the air and need to know how much, whereas those who need to determine whether asbestos is there at all would be better off with TEM. These samples are sent to a laboratory and tested using electrons to detect asbestos. TEM is more time-consuming and expensive, but more accurate.
Homeowners can choose to test for asbestos themselves using specialized kits. If you decide to test for asbestos yourself, it is important to follow the instructions exactly and take serious precautions to prevent exposure, including investing in the necessary personal protective gear. The area should be sealed off, with all windows and doors closed; and plastic sheeting should be put up to protect walls, carpets, and other surfaces. Spraying the area down can prevent additional dispersal as you cut out a sample. The sample must be carefully removed and bagged and sent to a laboratory for testing. Once the sample is removed, all of the plastic sheeting, gloves, masks, and other gear should be carefully disposed of and the sample spot should be painted over to prevent any dust from escaping.
If you live in a home built before 1980, it is recommended that you conduct a thorough asbestos inspection before starting any home renovation projects, including replacing appliances such as ovens or furnaces. Finding asbestos before beginning construction is much safer and much easier than dealing with it once the project has begun. Additionally, federal law does not require the presence of asbestos to be disclosed when a property is sold, but some states have such mandates in place.
Risk Factors for Asbestos-Related Disease
Although any level of asbestos exposure is considered unsafe, some circumstances can make the exposure more dangerous. Long-term, consistent exposure is more dangerous than a one-time momentary exposure to asbestos. Homeowners who have multiple asbestos points in their home are at risk, particularly if they are living through a renovation that could release significant amounts of dust.
There are a number of factors that can contribute to your risk of developing asbestos-related disease, in addition to asbestos exposure alone. Older people tend to be at higher risk; mesothelioma patients have an average age of 72 years. Smoking can also be a risk factor for asbestos-related cancers. There can also be a genetic component, making some asbestos exposure victims more prone to a mesothelioma diagnosis than others.
Workplace exposure to asbestos is a serious risk in many industries, including construction, automotive and aviation, maritime, and other occupations. Workers who are regularly handling asbestos products must follow strict safety procedures to prevent long-term asbestos exposure. Sometimes, the danger does not stop at the worksite, as workers can bring asbestos dust home with them on their clothes, tools, cars, and even in their hair. This puts their families at risk of secondary exposure to asbestos, which can be just as dangerous as if asbestos was found in the home on its own.
Conditions Caused by Asbestos Exposure
Asbestos-related diseases can include mesothelioma, lung cancer, and asbestosis. These conditions can have a very long latency period after the initial exposure occurs. Once the fibers are inhaled and make their way deep into the body, asbestos can remain in those tissues for decades before conditions begin to develop.
Mesothelioma is a rare and deadly cancer infecting the lining of the lungs and chest cavity. Once tumors begin to develop, the disease progresses quickly, often without detection. Mesothelioma typically has no symptoms in early stages as tumors are beginning to form, and symptoms are mild when they do present. Earliest symptoms of asbestos-related disease can look like any number of other respiratory conditions and often include persistent cough, chest pain, wheezing, shortness of breath, or swelling in the upper body. Consequently, mesothelioma can be very difficult to diagnose.
Philadelphia Asbestos Lawyers at Shein Law Fight for the Rights of Asbestos Exposure Victims
If you or a loved one has been diagnosed with mesothelioma or other asbestos-related disease, the Philadelphia asbestos lawyers at Shein Law can help. Our knowledgeable, experienced lawyers will thoroughly review the facts of your case to determine who is at fault for your asbestos exposure and hold them accountable for their negligence. We are committed to getting asbestos exposure victims the compensation to which they are entitled. Call us at 877-743-4652 or contact us online to discuss your case. With offices in Philadelphia and Pennsauken, New Jersey, we proudly serve clients throughout Pennsylvania and New Jersey.