There’s no doubt asbestos is dangerous, and there has been some debate around what levels of exposure will actually be harmful to one’s health. Many assume that only those who worked or still worth directly with asbestos materials in some way are at risk of exposure and a future diagnosis of mesothelioma or another similar disease.
However, occupational exposure isn’t the only threat. Even a single or short-term exposure can lead to serious health risks, like cancer, in the future. Being aware of where asbestos can be found and taking the proper precautions can help prevent a future diagnosis.
How a Single Exposure Can Happen
Frighteningly, people are exposed unknowingly to asbestos more often than you’d think. The toxin was so widely used in the past that its presence still remains in thousands of older buildings, including schools and homes. Though it’s important to remember that asbestos is technically not an immediate threat as long as the materials are left intact and aren’t disturbed in some way, the threat of exposure remains a lurking danger until all the asbestos is properly removed.
With this in mind, one of the most common ways people face a single or limited exposure to asbestos is through some DIY home project. Homes built before 1980 are more than likely to contain asbestos somewhere, like the floor tiles, roofing or insulation. So the unknowing homeowner that decides to tear down a wall or rip up some old flooring may end up releasing asbestos fibers into the air.
Even if only a little asbestos-containing material is present and its debris thrown out quickly in the project, the fibers may linger in the air and can be easily inhaled or ingested by anyone in the home. A one-time exposure like this may seem insignificant, but even low levels of asbestos can have a severe impact on the body over time. The same can be true for older homes that may need a little TLC and you can see cracks in the walls or broken floor tiles. It’s important to have an asbestos professional look over the area to determine if there is asbestos present and if it needs to be contained or removed for your safety. Having an asbestos inspector also observe any areas of the home you’re considering improving with a do-it-yourself project can avoid any potential airborne asbestos.
One-off exposure may also happen after a natural disaster or storm. Along the same vein of DIY home improvement, if the storm caused damage to older houses or buildings, there may be asbestos debris in the aftermath. For those living in the area or helping with cleanup, it’s important to keep in mind the possibility of coming into contact with damaged asbestos or other toxins and be mindful of any building materials and other asbestos products that may be strewn about. Even a brief exposure to asbestos materials while powering through a cleanup could lead to health problems in the future.
Why Even Short-Term Exposure is Dangerous
While some asbestos exposures are really dose dependent like when its present in water, meaning the impact of exposure depends on the amount of fibers and length of time exposed, sometimes all it takes is one brief inhalation of fibers to lead to mesothelioma years later. At low levels of asbestos in the air, the type of asbestos fibers can also impact the severity of any health risks. For instance, crocidolite or blue asbestos is considered the most lethal because of it is more brittle and most easily breaks. Though this asbestos wasn’t as widely used, its dangers are just as important to be aware of.
Asbestos fibers are invisible to the human eye and can easily spread through the air. Even a little damage to a minimal amount of asbestos material can result in hundreds of fibers making for more concentrated asbestos in the air. Whether high levels or low levels of asbestos, research has shown there is no safe level of exposure. Without any protective equipment, it’s impossible to avoid exposure. Because the fibers are microscopic, most people don’t even realize they were exposed until being diagnosed years later.
While people in certain industries, like construction workers, are more likely to be around asbestos materials in their everyday duties and face an increased risk, researchers have seen exposure through DIY projects or secondhand exposure from a family member becoming more prevalent in mesothelioma cases. Though long-term exposure is seen as higher risk, even occasional exposure or a single event can cause cancer. It’s important to be aware of where asbestos can be found and be proactive in your health to prevent exposure.
How to Prevent Exposure
Since even a single exposure can potentially lead to mesothelioma or other asbestos-related diseases, it’s important to be aware of all the potential health effects of exposure and know where asbestos can commonly be found. Asbestos poses a severe health threat, even in small amounts, so better education is vital for prevention. Following these simple tips can help protect you and your loved ones:
- Educate yourself on some common places asbestos can be found at home, on the job and at school.
- Help educate others on the dangers of asbestos and where it can be found.
- Have asbestos professionals inspect your home for the toxin, especially before any type of renovation or construction.
- If you’re nervous you may have been exposed, talk with your physician and monitor for any potential symptoms.
As long as asbestos is still not banned and its old uses remain, the general population’s health and safety are in jeopardy. Be proactive with your health and take the time to properly protect yourself from asbestos and other toxins.