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Asbestos Could be in Your Home: 3 Things You Should Know

As the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) works towards placing more restrictions on asbestos use, this cancer-causing fiber is still a threat in millions of U.S. homes. In places like New York State, the Department of Labor, which regulates asbestos abatement, uses the year 1974 in the regulations for determining which buildings require asbestos inspections. Some regulations use “homes built before the 1980s.”

If you live in a new or newer home, it’s safe to assume that it does not contain asbestos. For everyone else, asbestos could be lurking in your floor and ceiling tiles, in siding, roof shingles, and pipe cement, and in insulation around pipes, ducts, boilers, fireplaces, and sheeting. If you think you may have asbestos in your home, removal experts say the first thing to do is remain calm. The second is to find out what you can do about it. The third is to understand the risks of potential exposure.

1. Remain calm. 

If you discover asbestos in your home, panic is a natural reaction. Just take a deep breath and understand that there are things you can do to protect yourself and your family. Per the EPA, asbestos-containing materials that aren’t damaged or disturbed are not likely to pose a health risk, so don’t touch it. Usually the best thing to do is leave asbestos-containing material alone if it’s in good condition. If it’s not, you can quickly and safely determine the condition by sight. Simply look for signs of wear or damage such as abrasions, tears, and water damage.

Says the EPA, “damaged material may release asbestos fibers. This is particularly true if you often disturb it by hitting, rubbing or handling, or if it is exposed to extreme vibration or air flow.” If you determine that asbestos-containing materials are damaged or slightly damaged, there are a number of ways to handle it.

2. What you can do about it.

The EPA says that slightly damaged asbestos-containing material should be left alone and access to the area should be limited to avoid touching or disturbing it. However, if the thought of having asbestos in your home is too unsettling to bear, repair or removal by a trained and accredited asbestos professional is the answer. Removal or repair is a must if asbestos-containing materials are damaged (broken, cracking, flaking, etc.). Check your local directory for asbestos abatement specialists and verify their credentials before committing to a repair or removal project. 

3. Understand the risks of potential exposure.

As mentioned, if asbestos has not been disturbed, the EPA says as long as you don’t touch it and limit access the area, the risk is minimal. However, if asbestos is broken, cracking, flaking, or all of the above, fibers can become airborne. If you inhale the fibers, over time, they can lodge deep in the lungs or abdomen, and they can even affect the heart.

Asbestos fibers can injure the cells of the pleura. This can eventually cause pleural mesothelioma (cancer of the protective lining of the lung). Symptoms of pleural mesothelioma include chest pain, painful coughing, and shortness of breath, unexplained weight loss, and unusual lumps of tissue under the skin on the chest.

Peritoneal mesothelioma forms in the abdomen. This can result from coughing up and swallowing inhaled asbestos fibers. Symptoms of peritoneal mesothelioma include abdominal pain and swelling, unexplained weight loss, and lumps of tissue in the abdomen.

In pericardial mesothelioma (cancer that develops in the lining of the heart), mesothelioma cells grow and cause the lining of the heart to thicken. Fluid also builds up in the sac around the heart (called a pericardial effusion). Symptoms of pericardial mesothelioma include heart palpitations, cough, difficulty breathing, chest pain, fever, fatigue, and murmurs. 

There is no cure for mesothelioma. Treatment options are available, with the best outcomes for patients who have been diagnosed early. However, because it takes decades for mesothelioma to cause any symptoms, many people are diagnosed when the disease is already in its late stages.




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Current Medical Diagnosis & Treatment, Maxine and Stephen, McGraw 2015