The overuse of asbestos has significantly declined since its peak in the 20th century due to strict regulations on the cancer-causing substance. Unfortunately, there is still risk of exposure to legacy asbestos.
What actually is “legacy asbestos”? What is the official definition, and who is impacted the most?
Legacy asbestos, in short, is asbestos remaining in old buildings, structures or products. It is a hazard to homeowners, office workers and people who perform renovation work on old buildings.
How Asbestos Becomes ‘Legacy Asbestos’
Asbestos is a natural fibrous substance found in the earth’s soil. It was once used in electrical wiring, construction of roof tiles and floor tiles, insulation mixtures, and other industries. It was valued for its durability, resistance to fire and heat, and flexibility.
However, asbestos is fragile and can produce toxic dust if disturbed. Even the slightest touch can cause stray fibers to break away from the main source and contaminate the oxygen that residents and workers breathe throughout the day. Inhaling or ingesting asbestos dust can result in serious health issues, such as mesothelioma, lung cancer and other asbestos diseases.
If not disturbed, then asbestos can sit in homes and offices for decades. The passing of time and forgetting of asbestos in walls, floor tiles, roof shingles, and around pipes and electrical wiring is what causes asbestos to become legacy asbestos. Any asbestos that exists in homes or offices today is considered legacy asbestos, since it was likely implemented in the 1980s or earlier. It is considered a legacy element of building construction from a past era.
The danger of legacy asbestos is that most people are unaware it exists. Legacy asbestos can hide inside walls, appliances, or even in plain sight. It is important to know where it can be found and what to do when you find it.
Where Can Legacy Asbestos Be Found?
Because strict asbestos regulations were implemented in the 1980s, it has been decades since the hazardous substance was part of building new homes or offices. However, the strict regulations and the decline in use has not completely eradicated the risks of exposure.
The truth of American history includes asbestos. The substance was part of construction and insulation for centuries, and had a major uptick from 1940-1980. The only way to make asbestos extinct is to remove the mineral from old buildings, which requires confronting the issue of legacy asbestos.
Legacy asbestos can be found in many unsuspecting places, such as:
- Government buildings
- City landmarks
- Other buildings (old entertainment or sports venues, such as stadiums)
- Household appliances
Legacy Asbestos in Schools
Schools in particular are facing a major issue with legacy asbestos. Schools often are old and in need of renovations, but shortcomings in funding leave these renovations lower on priority lists for public school districts. Therefore, many schools built during the 20th century have legacy asbestos in ceilings and walls, such as around pipes.
A few years ago, the Philadelphia School District faced a legacy asbestos crisis that led to multiple schools shutting down due to fear of asbestos exposure for students, teachers, administrative staff and other faculty.
Legacy Asbestos in Automobiles
Asbestos was also known to be used in the construction and manufacturing of most homes, buildings, appliances and cars. Automobiles are another major concern for legacy asbestos exposure.
Many at-home car mechanics or people who repair their own old vehicles may find legacy asbestos around brake linings and brake pads. Asbestos was added to brake linings for heat resistance, but the grinding of the brakes caused asbestos to build up in the wheel well. Any automobile repair work could lead to this asbestos dust being disturbed and inhaled by the vehicle owner or mechanic.
There is an extensive list of home appliances that may contain legacy asbestos.
What Do I Do If I Find Legacy Asbestos?
If you find legacy asbestos in your home, office or anywhere else, contact a professional asbestos abatement specialist immediately. Do not attempt to remove legacy asbestos from electrical wires, siding, roof shingles, insulation or appliances. Asbestos is dangerous and any exposure to the substance can have deadly consequences.
Most states have implemented laws restricting who can handle asbestos and require anyone planning to handle the hazardous material to complete a training and certification course.
In most cases, your state’s environmental department is responsible for the regulation of asbestos and provides training courses for asbestos handling. Contact your state health or environmental department to learn about asbestos safety.
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