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Asbestos: What to Look For and How to Protect Yourself and Others


Still Prevalent in Schools, Public Buildings, and Homes

Asbestos is a deadly carcinogen, known to cause lung cancer and mesothelioma while killing an average 15,000 people a year in the United States. It is a group of minerals that occur naturally as a bundle of fibers, found all over the world. These fibers can be useful because they are strong, resistant to heat and many chemicals, and don’t conduct electricity. It is because of these qualities that this material has been used as an insulating material for hundreds of years.

Inhaling asbestos fibers is the most common way to be exposed. Although its use is not as frequent today as during the early part of the 20th century, inhalation is still a persistent risk. Any time a building with asbestos is demolished or renovated, it can be released into the air. At the same time, materials that contain asbestos can break down over time and also release particles into the air.

Where could asbestos be lurking in your home?

Changing Asbestos Legislation

Until recently the law of the land involving toxic substances was the outdated Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA) of 1976. This act provided the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) with the “authority to require reporting, record-keeping and testing requirements, and restrictions relating to chemical substances and/or mixtures.” TSCA included regulations for the production, importation, use and disposal of asbestos.

Unfortunately, the law hadn’t been revisited for 40 years! However, the Frank Lautenberg Chemical Safety for the 21st Century Act was recently signed into law. This new law amends and updates the outmoded TSCA by including stricter regulatory standards, and replaces TSCA’s old cost-benefit safety standard with a new health-based safety standard. This new standard opens the doors for the EPA to officially ban asbestos in the U.S., something it has been trying to do for many years.

Preventing Asbestos Inhalation

Asbestos risks can be found everywhere, but there are ways to protect yourself and your children from exposure. Here is a brief overview, but click here for a complete guide to identifying and preventing potential risks.

At Work

Your employer should be following all Occupational Safety & Health Administration (OSHA) regulations for hazardous chemicals, but be sure to take your own precautions and report any unsafe working conditions.

  • Ask your employer about any asbestos-related health risks in your place of work.
  • Always wear protective gear when you may disturb asbestos.
  • Don’t bring home work clothes that may contain asbestos particles.
  • Always dispose of asbestos materials according to state and federal regulations.

At Home

Most asbestos exposure occurs during home renovations. If you’re planning on tackling any home improvement projects, protect yourself and your family.

  • Some of the in-home items that may contain this substance are: attic insulation, shingles and tar, drywall and popcorn ceilings.
  • If you have an older home, don’t perform DIY renovations where it may be present.
  • Never attempt to remove it without help from a professional abatement specialist.
  • Dangerous exposure may occur when you attempt to remove contaminated products, especially if you cut, saw, sand or drill them.

At School and In Public Buildings

About half of all schools in the United States were built from 1950 to 1969, when this dangerous substance was a common construction material. The EPA requires all schools to inspect any asbestos-containing materials every three years, as well as have a management plan in place. You can request to see a school’s management plan at any time. In addition, you can keep an eye out for any possible contaminated materials, including:

  • Damaged drywall or plaster
  • Deteriorated tiles, roofing or ceiling panels
  • Chipped paint
  • Old heating or A/C
  • Run-down steam pipes or boiler insulation
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