Realizing The Risks

Being a part of the mesothelioma community is something that, honestly, took me by chance. I now find myself explaining complex procedures and biological events I never thought I would be so knowledgeable about. Through all of the research I have done with respect to mesothelioma, I took a moment to think about how asbestos affects me personally. Using sites like ACAD in the UK and others in the US reminded me of this important reality.

I know asbestos isn’t as widely used as it once was, but it can be found in numerous products, especially in construction. Houses and buildings built before the 1970s are, as a rule, suspect to asbestos used somewhere within the structure.

Considering this fact, it struck me: my house was built in the 1940s!

This really ignited my curiosity about where the asbestos in my house could be, hopefully nowhere of concern. Many people live in old houses for years and never develop mesothelioma because they don’t disturb the asbestos present in the building. Nonetheless, I decided to educate myself about asbestos in homes like the one I live in. The information I learned is valuable and truly a need-to-know topic for homeowners and renters of older homes, especially if they plan any DIY remodeling projects for the future. What I learned is narrowed down to four, straightforward pieces of advice:

1. Assume It Contains Asbestos

The only way to be absolutely certain any material in your home contains asbestos is to have it analyzed by specialists. However, all suspicious materials should be treated as if they contain asbestos. This is the age-old “better safe than sorry” mantra in action. Because the carcinogenic fibers are microscopic, it is important not to disturb the material in such a way that fibers are released into the air.

2. Knowing is Half the Battle

Homeowners should assume insulation in walls and ceilings of older houses contain asbestos. Assumptions should also be made when replacing exterior surfaces like roof felt, shingles and siding. Inside the home, vinyl flooring, boilers and piping pose the largest risk of containing asbestos. Walls in older houses sometimes used fire-resistant sheeting containing asbestos. The sheeting is generally safe, but drilling or removing a wall can release asbestos into the air. Even old paint can contain asbestos.

Asbestos is usually white or gray (sometimes blue) and comes in several different forms. It can be in the form of cement sheets, paper lining and plasters. Knowing where asbestos was commonly used and its appearance is important to avoid any potential health hazards caused by disturbing the asbestos. Once it is identified, steps can then be taken to remove the asbestos and safeguard your home.

3. Take Samples Carefully

Analysis of suspected materials must be done before any remodeling done to ensure your safety. If you’ve identified any materials in your home that you believe may contain asbestos, taking a sample to have tested must be done with care. Spraying the material with a light mist of water prior to taking the sample will help reduce the release of fibers into the air. Once the material is dampened, use a small sample container to scoop up the material. An old pill bottle or small Tupperware container is a good container to use for this. After the sample is collected, make sure the container is tightly sealed and use a damp paper towel to clean up the outside of the container and any material that may have spilled on the floor. Lastly, make sure to label the container.

4. Hire a Pro

This is probably the most obvious piece of information, but it is the most important for homeowner’s to keep in mind. The risks are replacing asbestos containing materials are too great, so hiring a professional is the best plan of action. The professionals you hire should have special training and certification to ensure proper removal and disposal. The professionals have special equipment, such as high-grade air filters, which prevents air contamination during the removal.

There are safety equipment suppliers that offer ways for homeowner’s to remove asbestos, but this is highly discouraged. It is best to hire a professional in this case or to simply leave the asbestos alone.

Stay Vigilant

Older homes have a special attraction for many homeowners. These homes have a history and sometimes a unique feel of personality. Older homes also happen to be fixer-uppers in many cases, which can be part of the fun of owning an older home. However, before any remodeling goes into these homes there are several threats of which homeowners must be aware – namely, asbestos. If the home was built before the 1970s, it is almost a certainty that it contains asbestos. Before the EPA started regulating asbestos, it was used in flooring, ceiling tiles, insulation, roofing material and electrical receptacles. Special precautions must be taken before any remodeling projects to protect the homeowner from the danger of asbestos exposure, which can lead to cancer.

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    About the Writer, Andrew Devine

    Andrew Devine is a contributing writer for Mesothelioma Guide. He has developed an interest in educating patients and their families on everything from new treatments to what to expect after diagnosis.