As I was sitting in my office today diligently trying to calculate some numbers, the sound of hammers and drills and idle chatter filled my ears and I felt as if I wouldn´t get a moment´s peace. In addition, the sneezing and coughing and heavy breathing greatly concerned me – the subcontractors were remodeling the bathrooms across from my office.
Now I work in a very old building, and for some reason, the thought of asbestos popped into my head many times throughout the day. I am not normally a negative person, but when you are trying to work and everyone around you is wheezing, it does leave room for imagination.
According to the Occupational Safety & Health Administration (OSHA), an estimated 1.3 million employees in construction and general industry face significant asbestos exposure on the job. The main source of asbestos in indoor air is insulation products.
Buildings built in the last 50 years used a variety of materials composed of asbestos mixed with other fibers like paper, fiberglass, or synthetic fibers and a binder, usually lime or gypsum mortar. Common materials include vinyl floor tiles, patching compounds and textured paints, furnace, stove and pipe insulation, stove door gaskets, some roofing shingles and siding material, and parts of some pre-1979 appliances such as toasters, clothes dryers, and hair dryers.
Many buildings contain asbestos, which was used in spray-applied flame retardant, thermal system insulation, and in a variety of other materials. Typically, asbestos was “flocked” above false ceilings, inside technical ducts, and in many other small spaces where firefighters would have difficulty gaining access. Structural components like asbestos panels were also used.. Its production was banned in the U.S. in 1978. However, the ban allowed installers to use up remaining stocks, so houses built as late as 1986 could still have asbestos in their acoustic ceilings. The only way to be sure is to remove a sample and have it tested by a competent laboratory.
You will not be harmed by touching it or being near asbestos-containing materials. Your health may be affected by inhaling asbestos fibers, where the fibers may become lodged in the microscopic tubules of your lower lung. Most people do not develop health problems when exposed to small amounts of asbestos. However, the risk of lung disease from asbestos exposure is greater among smokers. A study published in the New England Journal of Medicine (May 28, 1998) reports that, “exposure to moderate levels of asbestos does not appear to significantly increase a person’s risk of developing lung cancer.” However, this is an area of continued debate among scientists. Depending on how and where asbestos was applied, it might not pose any risk to most users of the building. If the fibers cannot dislodge themselves, they cannot be inhaled, and thus the risk is absent.
The removal of asbestos from a building is quite difficult because of strict guidelines. If removal is to be performed when users are still present in the building, it is usually necessary to relocate some of them temporarily. Typically, the part of the building from which asbestos is being removed has to be sealed off in order to prevent contamination of the other areas.
Exposure to asbestos can cause asbestosis (scarring of the lungs resulting in loss of lung function that often progresses to disability and to death); mesothelioma (cancer affecting the membranes lining the lungs and abdomen); lung cancer and other forms of cancer.
Individuals who know or suspect they have been chronically exposed to asbestos dust on the job or at home should inform their physician of their exposure history. A physical examination is recommended if you have shortness of breath; a change in cough pattern; pain in the chest or abdomen; difficulty in swallowing or prolonged hoarseness; blood in the sputum (fluid coughed up from the lungs); significant weight loss.
For further information on asbestos, visit the following websites:
“Symptoms, then, are in reality nothing but a cry from suffering organs.” ~ Jean-Martin Charcot