Modern Asbestos Exposure: Should I Be Afraid?

Contrary to the popular belief that asbestos exposure is a thing of the past, it still occurs today in countries around the world—including the United States. Not only are older buildings likely to contain multiple asbestos-made materials, such materials are still being imported by the U.S. each year—even as thousands are diagnosed with mesothelioma cancer and other asbestos-related diseases.

Approximately two billion pounds of manufactured asbestos comes into the country annually—an amount that is still as much as 800 times less than that being brought in during the asbestos-manufacturing peak of the early 1970s. Much of the asbestos brought into the U.S. today is intended for use within the electrochemical industry, where it is likely to be handled according to strict safety protocol. However, more than two-thirds is contained in roofing materials that are routinely used in homes and businesses.

Construction workers are among those at greatest risk for significant modern asbestos exposure, with an estimated 1.3 million workers within that industry coming into contact with some form of asbestos each year. The comforting news is that asbestos-made materials today are different and safer than those found 40 or more years ago. Today, any product containing asbestos is made specifically to seal off the fibers and restrict disintegration—the very process that creates asbestos toxicity.

For individuals living in homes that contain asbestos, observing some very basic safety guidelines can go a long way in protecting themselves from malignant mesothelioma and other associated illnesses. The fact is that most homes built prior to 1980 are considered very likely to have asbestos, making these precautions important to millions of American homeowners.

The most important advisable safety measure is to rely on a qualified asbestos remover to tackle any asbestos-heavy renovation projects in your older home. Asbestos only becomes lethal when materials containing its tiny fibers become broken, causing a very fine dust to circulate the air and potentially be consumed by human bystanders.

Professionals are trained in how to protect themselves from asbestos exposure in these conditions, which includes wearing special anti-contaminant suits and using a custom-made vacuum, outfitted with an industrial-strength HEPA filter, to contain all toxic debris.

In cases where a homeowner insists on handling asbestos personally (something that is generally ill-advised), he or she should always do so in a well-ventilated area and always wear special “coverall”-type clothing that is to be discarded immediately after removal.

Wearing a special type of facemask, called a particulate respirator, is also highly advised. This device is designed to cover the nose, filtering out dangerous particles related to asbestos exposure or other toxins, while allowing the wearer to breathe safely.

Contracting experts also suggest dampening the asbestos prior to moving or tampering with it, in an effort to keep particles from floating into the atmosphere. Similarly, clean up is recommended using a mop and water, rather than a broom, which would likely just cause the fibrous dust to become airborne and spread.

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