Asbestos testing in your home
You may not have heard of the cancer that affects about 3,000 Americans each year, known as mesothelioma. But you may have heard about the carcinogen responsible for the disease: asbestos, and it can be lurking in your everyday life! This is why testing for asbestos in your home is so important.
Asbestos is a mineral found naturally in some mining deposits (such as talc). For decades, it has been manufactured into products that are fire retardant, soundproof, and/or resist chemical corrosion. At one time, its use was so common that almost all buildings, houses, cars and boats were built with the material. Furthermore, over thousands of products (from crayons to cosmetics) have been manufactured or contaminated with asbestos and there is no safe level of exposure to asbestos.
As a result, more than 40,000 people lose their lives to asbestos-related diseases each year. People who work in industries that deal with large amounts of brittle asbestos (ie, dust potentially transmitted through the air) are generally more likely to develop cancer caused by asbestos (such as construction workers). However, asbestos is also a risk in many homes today, and testing these areas of your home is the only way to know the extent of the risk.
What are the risks of mesothelioma?
Once asbestos is inhaled into the body, it settles there for life. If you’ve had an asbestos disorder in your home, even years ago, you’re at risk of developing mesothelioma. Although mesothelioma is just one of the potential risks of exposure to asbestos, it is an aggressive and rapidly spreading form of cancer. However, it usually takes years before symptoms of exposure (eg chest pain, swelling) appear.
The long latency period between exposure and the first signs of cancer makes diagnosing the cause of symptoms more difficult. As such, many clinicians will consider specific risk factors during their examination.
Mesothelioma cancer risks include:
- OmarMost diagnoses of mesothelioma occur among the elderly. The median age of diagnosis is currently 72 years.
- family historySome people are more likely to develop mesothelioma due to inherited family genes.
- exposure dateExposure to asbestos at work, at home, or from a person who carries asbestos dust on hair, skin, or clothing.
- Length and amount of exposure: Although there is no safe level of exposure, intense exposure for longer periods of time increases the risk of asbestos-related cancer.
- smoking habitsCigarette smoking significantly increases the risk of cancer when combined with exposure to asbestos.
- Unsafe exposureInhalation of asbestos fibers (even the smallest ones that cannot be seen) is the greatest risk factor for developing mesothelioma. Most people with mesothelioma experience exposure in the workplace due to corporate negligence. Others have been exposed to asbestos dust in the home from damaged building materials (such as floor tiles).
Where can you find asbestos at home?
In the United States, homes built before the 1980s are most susceptible to asbestos contamination. However, because the federal government has not completely banned asbestos, homes built after that time may contain toxic products.
According to the Consumer Product Safety Commission, items containing asbestos are not dangerous when they are still in good condition. Good condition means the item is not damaged or deteriorated. Natural and physical wear on contaminated shingles, water damage on sides, and duct packing tape are examples of potential sources of toxic exposure.
Examples of places you might find asbestos and want to test it in your home include:
- ashes and artificial embers
- Asbestos paper and pipe wrapping
- Boilers, Furnace Tubes, Steam Tubes
- Cement roofs, shingles, and siding
- Cement boards and grinding boards
- Prostheses and joints
- fireplace door gaskets
- Textured paints and popcorn ceiling
- Vinyl Floor Tile & Floor Adhesive
There is no way to tell something contains asbestos just by looking at it, unless it is described otherwise. Hiring a professional, state-approved asbestos testing company to take samples from your home is the only way to confirm contamination.
However, sampling can be very dangerous and can expose you to small carcinogenic particles. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) recommends following all the do’s and don’ts of a homeowner before making any renovations.
Symptoms of exposure to asbestos
When you inhale dust contaminated with asbestos, you may not feel anything abnormal. Exposure to asbestos does not cause any immediate symptoms. The fibers are often too small for the human eye to see. Then, the asbestos can travel deeper into the body, bypassing the body’s defenses to fight off invaders. Also, the fibers cannot be removed from the body once they have adhered to tissues.
Over time, asbestos can damage organs and make it difficult for them to do their jobs. Depending on the location of the fibers within your body, you may notice symptoms such as:
- A cough that lasts at least 8 weeks or a cough that keeps coming back
- Shortness of breath or feeling like you can’t take a full breath
- Swelling in the face, arms, or abdomen
- Difficulty swallowing food or drink
Doctors advise anyone at risk of developing mesothelioma (such as those who have been treated with this substance) to have regular cancer screenings. Imaging tests, physical exams and lung function tests help detect diseases before they spread throughout the body.
However, anyone showing symptoms of the disease (such as those listed above) should make an appointment for a cancer test as soon as possible.