Insulation is a vital part of any building. Responsible for blocking the heat in the summer and the cold in the winter, insulation makes a building more comfortable for those who live or work inside. Insulation workers typically work on residential and commercial buildings, but they can also find work on ships or in factories where insulation is needed for machinery. Insulation comes in all shapes and sizes, and it is measured, cut, sanded, and contorted to make it fit in any given space. By installing insulation, homeowners can reduce heating and cooling costs by well over 40 percent. It will also make a building much quieter, blocking outside noises. Insulation carries many benefits, but if it was installed prior to the 1980s, it could also pose a serious risk.
Asbestos is a toxic material that was frequently used in insulation between 1930 and the late 1970s. It has the ability to withstand high temperatures, which made it a great fire retardant material to use in building homes and commercial buildings. However, this insulation was also quite dangerous because of its friability, though it was unknown at the time. Tiny fibers of asbestos insulation could be inhaled or ingested, making insulation workers and others in the vicinity very sick. Sometimes the symptoms of asbestos exposure would not occur until years or decades down the road, leading to misdiagnosis.
Asbestos in Insulation Products
Insulation workers can come across asbestos in many different places. It is commonly found in attics, especially around heating and air conditioning symptoms. Zonolite insulation is the most common asbestos insulation still seen in attics today. Pipe coverings can also contain asbestos. It was used frequently around pipes on ships because it can handle extreme temperatures. Block insulation may also contain asbestos. Prior to the 1980s wall insulation oftentimes contained asbestos, and this kind is among the most hazardous because it is so frequently worn down.
For many years, asbestos was added into spray-on insulation that was used in ceilings, walls, and attics. In 1990, new laws prohibited the use of asbestos in spray-on formulas if they exceeded more than one percent concentration.
Most insulation workers are exposed to asbestos in confined spaces. Poor circulation makes exposure even more dangerous and puts them at an increased risk for an asbestos disease such as cancer or mesothelioma. These diseases may not occur until 10 to 50 years after the initial exposure to asbestos.
When small fibers of this toxic material are inhaled, they become lodged in the lungs. This leads to inflammation and long-term scarring as the body’s immune system tries unsuccessfully to eliminate the foreign substance. Mesothelioma is a cancer that is tied closely to asbestos exposure. In many cases, it’s a deadly disease. Doctors are still working hard to find a treatment plan that actually works.
If you worked around insulation at any point prior to the 1980s, you were most likely exposed to asbestos. Even modern insulation workers can be exposed during remodeling jobs or projects that occur on old structures with remaining asbestos materials. Be sure to discuss this risk with your doctor and have routine health monitoring in case you develop symptoms of mesothelioma.