Old and eclectic homes are intriguing for a number of different reasons. From their charm to their history, it can be all too easy to persuade homebuyers to invest in a “fixer-upper.” While many people love the idea of adding unique and personal touches to their dream home, occupants sometimes end up renovating the space with little knowledge about what lies behind the walls, under the floors, or in the attic, including asbestos.
June is National Safety Month and we are spreading the word about the prevalence and dangers associated with asbestos and how to stay safe during home renovation and DIY projects. With the World Health Organization recognizing asbestos as a fundamental source of occupational cancer around the globe, tradesmen have been found to be at a significant risk of asbestos exposure today. Beyond educating construction crews, it’s important to inform anyone involved with home improvement projects and construction equipment about protecting their lung health.
The Construction Industry and Asbestos
Asbestos is a naturally occurring fibrous mineral that found its way into thousands of products within the construction trade throughout the early and mid 20th century. It was thought to be somewhat of a miracle mineral because it holds unique properties, including flexibility, strength, and resistance to heat and harsh chemicals. Historically, the United States was a large consumer of asbestos, and from 1900-1949 used, on average, 63% of the world’s entire production.
The construction trade played a major role in this significant growth, as manufacturers eventually incorporated asbestos into seemingly every building product imaginable. This suggests that a substantial number of homes and commercial properties may still be contaminated with asbestos today, making not only construction workers but residents vulnerable to developing several lifelong illnesses, including a rare and deadly form of cancer called mesothelioma. Once the fatal consequences behind exposure were officially confirmed, the U.S. began to heavily regulate its use within consumer products. Despite its lethal nature, building materials across the nation today can still legally contain up to 1% asbestos. If you live in a home built before 1980, the following products may contain the carcinogen:
- Roof shingles
- Roof felt
- Asphalt roofing compounds
- Vinyl floor tiles
- Plaster or caulking compounds
- Aluminum siding
- Cement pipes
- Electrical equipment
- Popcorn ceilings
- Heating Ducts
The Risk Behind Renovations
With asbestos embedded into countless building materials, any sort of wear and tear could release toxic fibers into the air, enabling them to be easily ingested or inhaled. This toxin is only considered a health hazard when products containing it have been worn down or damaged, but this can happen easily through renovations that involve cutting, sanding, or drilling old and toxic building materials.
Unfortunately, asbestos fibers are odorless, microscopic, and virtually impossible to identify with the naked eye, often leaving occupants and workers oblivious to when their lungs may be at significant risk. Homeowners should remain wary of old attic insulation, vinyl floor tiles, and roofing materials, as these are some of the most common toxic products.
By Marvin Nauman (This image is from the FEMA Photo Library.) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
Photo by Marvin Nauman [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
High-risk activities include any common home improvement venture such as installing a new roof, building a deck, remodeling a bathroom, or finishing an attic or basement. If you plan to start a similar endeavor, it’s important to check in with a home inspector to make sure the house has been evaluated and is asbestos-free.
5 Prevention Tips For Homeowners
- Never try to follow a DIY or home remedy guide for removing asbestos, as this is an extremely complex process that a professional must be trained and licensed to do. This issue should never be handled by tenants; doing so may put yourself at risk of exposure along with anyone nearby.
- If you spot corroded or damaged materials, it’s always in your best interest to assume they contain asbestos. You should contact a specialist who can sample the area and evaluate its presence without exposing others in the process. Under certain circumstances, it may be best to simply seal and bind the fibers to the material or enclose the space, preventing fibers from traveling any further.
- If you suspect asbestos may be present in your home, it’s important to avoid the area and limit access, especially for young children. Simply walking through a contaminated room can be dangerous and enable toxic dust to be tracked throughout the house.
- Never assume you’re safe from exposure just because you haven’t had direct
contact with asbestos. Fibers can accumulate within dust indoors and make simple chores, such as sweeping or vacuuming, a potential health hazard.
- Stay away from using any sort of power stripper, as old vinyl floor tiles and adhesives are notorious for containing the toxin. If you plan to replace your floors, the best solution is to simply cover the old tiles with new flooring.
Read more: Tips on How to Detox Your Home