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Asbestos is a natural mineral fiber found in rocks and soil. The fibers are incredibly strong and fire resistant, which make them a beneficial addition to building materials like floor and ceiling tiles, insulation, and roofing. It is also used in products exposed to friction such as vehicle brakes, clutches, and transmissions.
The problem with asbestos is that it can be just as dangerous as it is beneficial. Despite the risks associated with asbestos, there are only certain products where its use is banned. Many companies still use asbestos in cement piping, roof coatings and felt, vehicle components, and vinyl flooring.
Dangers of Asbestos
Lung disease is a major risk associated with asbestos. Asbestosis is one of the three main diseases linked to asbestos exposure. This disease, though non-cancerous, involves heavy scarring of the lung tissue caused by inhalation of the sharp asbestos fibers.
Lung cancer and another form of cancer, mesothelioma, are two other common diseases related to asbestos exposure. Mesothelioma is a rare cancer that affects the abdomen, chest, heart, and lungs. In rare cases where people drink water contaminated with asbestos, benign polyps may develop on the intestines. Many of these conditions can be fatal.
Where Asbestos is Commonly Found
Homes, schools, and work places may all contain building materials with asbestos. The fibers are also found in cars, specifically in brakes and transmissions. You are not at risk for asbestos exposure if the materials are in good shape, but if they start deteriorating, immediate action is necessary.
Drinking Water Safety
Asbestos can seep into your drinking water naturally through soil and rocks or through cement water pipes that contain asbestos. In public water facilities, the Environmental Protection Agency requires the government to monitor asbestos levels. In a private well, it’s important for homeowners to have their water tested regularly. The EPA sets the limit of asbestos in drinking water at seven million fibers per liter.
Protection From Exposure
The most important way to protect yourself and your family from exposure is to evacuate any facility where building products containing asbestos seem to be falling apart. Crumbling insulation, old ceiling tiles, or exposure of old flooring felt are all possibilities. If you’re uncertain whether asbestos is present, it’s better to err on the side of caution and have it professionally inspected before returning to the building.
What to Do if You Are Exposed
If you suspect you’ve inhaled asbestos, stop smoking and avoid all contact with second-hand smoke. It can take years for any signs of asbestos-related disease to appear. Smoking and exposure to smoke increases the risk of developing lung cancer.
Visit your doctor as a precaution. He or she can perform periodic chest x-rays to look for signs of tumors. An early diagnosis is your best chance to fight the disease.
For home renovations that will impact materials containing asbestos or clear degradation of building materials, experts in asbestos must be hired. They may be able to seal the asbestos material to contain the fibers or cover it with a protective cover.
Asbestos removal is a time consuming project. You cannot do it by yourself, as this puts you at higher risk for exposure. There are professionals who go through specialized training to remove asbestos safely and dispose of it properly. Safe removal is your best form of defense from the dangers of asbestos.
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