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We have all heard that asbestos can be harmful to your health, but do you know when, where, why and how asbestos is dangerous to you and your family? Here are the basics you should know about asbestos:

What is asbestos?

Asbestos is an inexpensive building material that acts as an extremely effective fire-retardant and was often used in older homes and buildings as an insulator. Asbestos can be hard to find because you can’t tell that materials contain asbestos by simply looking at them.

Where is asbestos found?

Asbestos was commonly used in construction between the 1940s and 1970s. Buildings and homes constructed before 1975 often have asbestos used as insulation around basement boilers and pipes. Other areas of the home where it can be found are vinyl floor tiles, plaster, siding, window caulk, paint, ceiling texture, and roofing materials, such as shingles and flat roofs.

When is asbestos dangerous?

The mere presence of asbestos does not pose a danger to your health. In fact, materials that contain asbestos, if in good condition, should go untouched and be left alone. Asbestos becomes dangerous when it is damaged. Building materials that are crumbling or that have been sawed or scraped into a powder can release the dangerous fibers of asbestos. When asbestos fibers are disturbed, they are dispersed into the air. When you inhale the fibers, they get lodged in the tubes going to and from your lungs, which, over time, damages lung tissue as you breathe.

What happens if there is asbestos in my house?

As mentioned, if asbestos-containing materials are in good condition, they most likely won’t harm you. However, if the material is degrading or damaged, you should limit your access to that area of your home, do not touch or disturb it and call a professional to remove or repair the asbestos-containing materials. 

What conditions can be caused by asbestos?

Repeated exposure to asbestos causes damage to the lung tissue. There are multiple conditions that can be caused by asbestos:

  1. Mesothelioma: Mesothelioma is an incurable cancer of the lining in your chest and abdomen.

  2. Lung cancer: Asbestos fibers can damage the tubes that carry your air in and out of your lungs. The cancer then grows inside your lung and can spread to the rest of the body.

  3. Other cancers such as ovarian, laryngeal, esophageal, gallbladder, kidney and throat cancers have been attributed to asbestos exposure.

  4. Asbestosis: Asbestosis is a scarring in the lung due to fiber exposure. The scarring causes the lungs to shrink, which leads to difficulty breathing.

  5. Pleural thickening: This thickening is a result of excessive scarring of the lung’s lining from asbestos fibers. When the lining thickens and swells, the lung is then squeezed, causing difficulty breathing.

  6. Pleural plaques: Pleural plaques are areas of scar tissue in the lung’s lining. However, this scarring usually exhibits no symptoms and doesn’t cause any health problems.

  7. COPD: COPD is a lung disease that causes chronic bronchitis and emphysema.

What if I think I’ve had exposure to asbestos?

The best action to take is to see your doctor. If you experience coughing, shortness of breath or chest pain, these are symptoms of asbestos exposure that your doctor should be aware of. Talk to your doctor about past and present jobs, if someone you have lived with or worked with has had asbestos exposure, future testing and treatment, and what your next steps should be to relieve your pain.

If you are unsure about the possible presence of asbestos in your home or place of work, let Tioga help. Our trained specialists can assist with employee awareness training and abatement design and monitoring.