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With the summer months coming to an end, many of us are scrambling to get our home improvement projects finished before the cold weather hits. Whether you are planning to renovate your guest bedroom, insulate your garage, or replace that old vinyl flooring that is starting to curl up, it is important to understand the risk of asbestos exposure when working on older homes. In honor of Mesothelioma Awareness Day coming up this September 26th, here is some important home safety information to keep in mind before starting your next DIY project.
What is asbestos?
Asbestos is the name given to a group of naturally occurring minerals that are resistant to heat and corrosion. When asbestos breaks down, its fibers are microscopic and too small to be seen with the naked eye. Breathing in asbestos fibers can cause a buildup of scar-like tissue in the lungs called asbestosis and result in loss of lung function that often progresses to disability and death. Asbestos exposure can immediately trigger things like asthma attacks and other respiratory issues right away. Over time, exposure can lead to much more serious complications, such as asbestos-related cancers. These cancers can range from lung cancer to ovarian cancer and symptoms typically won’t occur until years after your initial asbestos exposure.
Asbestos is well-recognized as a health hazard and its use is now highly regulated by the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) because of the dangers it poses. Keep in mind that there is never a safe level of asbestos exposure for any type of asbestos fiber you may encounter.
Why do we need to be aware of hidden asbestos?
As DIY enthusiasts, sometimes we are not aware of the hidden dangers we are exposing ourselves to—especially ones we cannot see. When working on a project that could have hidden asbestos, we may not realize the toxins we could be breathing in. Asbestos fibers are airborne, therefore, can be inhaled or swallowed without us even knowing. Many jobs such as sanding, cutting, or repairing can often create asbestos dust. Building materials may also face wear and tear over the years, which can expose their fibers in structures.
We also want to take into consideration what we could be exposing our family members, too, while working on our projects. Individuals can be exposed by coming into contact with asbestos fibers from someone else, such as fibers on your clothing or on your skin and hair.
How can we avoid asbestos exposure?
Now that you know what asbestos is and the harm it can cause to your health, you want to take safety precautions before starting that long-awaited DIY project. The following are some helpful safety tips before you get started:
Identify Asbestos Products
When identifying whether your project may contain asbestos, remember that asbestos was extremely popular from the 1930s through the late 1970s. A variety of home products were manufactured with asbestos for their heat-resistant properties.
If you are working on something that was built around that time period, it is safe to assume it could have asbestos in it. A few examples are insulation, floor tiles, cement, ceiling tiles, drywall, adhesives, and shingles. In order to protect your household, it is best to have an asbestos test done with an at-home testing kit or your local environmental services.
Practice safe cleaning habits
Home renovation involves a lot of dirty work, so whether you believe there could be asbestos in your home or not, implement cleaning safety practices before, during, and after you work. First, be sure to always wear a mask with a HEPA filter. Remember that asbestos is microscopic and is easily inhaled. Second, change out of your clothes and wash them immediately after finishing your project for the day. If that is not possible, bag them up and change into fresh clothing before entering another part of your home or going near other people. Lastly, shower immediately after your work day is over. Asbestos fibers can attach to your skin and hair, so you want to wash well after possible exposure.
Hire a professional
You do not ever want to touch, move, or dispose of asbestos-containing materials on your own. Please keep yourself and your loved ones safe by leaving it to the experts. There are asbestos abatement professionals who are trained and certified in identifying, handling, and properly disposing of it. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has a certified list of contacts for every state to help you find a licensed and qualified professional in your area.
Do-it-Yourself home remodeling is a fun and rewarding investment, but it also comes with risks. Knowing the hazards before starting your next project ensures that you stay safe and healthy. As tempting as it may be to want to start right away and begin renovating, always ask yourself if you are sure the project is safe to tackle on your own or if you should be calling a professional for assistance. Once your project area is checked for asbestos and deemed safe, it is time to put your handyman skills to work and ultimately, enjoy your finished project.