Asbestos, which is present in millions of homes, schools and other public building across the United States, is notoriously toxic. It is the only definitively known cause of mesothelioma, a virulent cancer that causes thousands of death annually. Experts on public health and safety have determined that there is no safe level of exposure to asbestos. Even the slightest exposure can result in serious illnesses, including lung cancer, asbestosis, and a number of other cancers. However, the mere presences of asbestos isn’t a hazard. Rather, it only becomes dangerous when it is friable – a word that means easily crumbled – or when it is disturbed or broken, such as often happens during renovations in older homes and buildings. Asbestos “dust” contains tiny fibers, far finer than the finest human hair. When it is inhaled, these fibers can become trapped in the lungs, bronchia and other cells in your body. Once there, they may stay for decades, causing scarring of the surrounding tissues, and in some cases, mesothelioma, one of the most deadly types of cancer. Because of this, the EPA and OSHA have specific regulations about how to handle asbestos in the environment to prevent it from becoming a health hazard, either to workers or to the community. Here is what you need to know about asbestos cleanups in order to keep yourself and your family safe.
Asbestos Is Only Dangerous When the Fibers Become Airborne
Because of that, most experts recommend covering or “encapsulating” asbestos rather than attempting to remove it. When a surface is encapsulated, it’s far less likely to be damaged in a way that can release asbestos fibers into the air, and accidental exposures are far less likely.
Asbestos May Be Present in Any Building Constructed Before 1980 in the U.S.
Asbestos-containing products were ubiquitous in construction in the early parts of the 20th century. If you live or work in an older building, there’s a good chance that there is asbestos present in the floors, the walls, the insulation or other parts of the building. Because of that, renovations and repairs to older homes and buildings carry a higher than normal likelihood of exposing people to airborne asbestos fibers. Property owners of older buildings should have their properties examined by a certified expert to determine if asbestos is present, whether it presents a danger, and the best course of action to prevent accidental exposure. This is especially important before beginning any renovations to older homes and buildings.
Asbestos Cleanups, Removal & Abatement Should Be Done By Trained Experts
Because of the dangers of releasing asbestos fibers into the air, property owners should not attempt to remove asbestos on their own. All asbestos removal should be done by trained, certified contractors who are legally required to follow specific procedures to ensure that any fibers released during demolition or removal are contained to a small area.
Older Schools Must Have an Asbestos Abatement Plan on File and Publicly Accessible
Every older school in the U.S. must have a record of their most recent asbestos evaluation, as well as an abatement plan explaining how asbestos contamination is being dealt with in their building. That plan must be available for viewing by the general public upon request.
Accidental Exposures Are More Likely to Happen During Renovations or When a Building Is Damaged
Something as simple as a minor plumbing emergency can become far more dire if it damages materials containing asbestos. In older school buildings, for example, a roof leak or burst pipe can damage pipe insulation or wall boards that contain asbestos. When that happens, there are specific rules and procedures that must be followed during and after the cleanup to ensure that there is little to no exposure risk to children, teachers and others who use the building. In addition, owners of public buildings may be required to notify people who live and work in the building if there is or was a risk of asbestos exposure during an asbestos cleanup.
Tips for Preventing Asbestos Exposure During Abatement
To keep yourself and your family safe during renovations or asbestos abatement, always follow the procedures prescribed by the EPA or by the contractors working on the removal. In general, that means:
- Seal the area around the work area with plastic sheeting to prevent the spill of asbestos fibers to the surrounding rooms.
- Always wear HEPA-approved filter masks when working in the affected area.
- If possible, leave the home while the work is being done, and only return after the work has been completed.
- Always consult a certified contractor before beginning any renovation in an older home.
- Ask to see the asbestos abatement plan at your children’s school, and be aware of construction, demolition or renovation work happening in your neighborhood. In many states, contractors must post prominent signs warning the public that there is a danger of exposure to asbestos.
There is no safe level of exposure to asbestos, but by being aware of its presence and following basic safety procedures, you can greatly reduce the risk of exposure for yourself and your family during asbestos cleanups.