Chances are you’ve heard of asbestos before. It’s also likely you’ve heard that it is dangerous. But very few people actually understand where the mineral comes from and why it’s so hazardous. The first week of April is Global Asbestos Awareness Week – a week dedicated to increasing awareness and preventing exposure to the mineral by shedding light on the risks, answering questions, and starting a world-wide conversation.
As DIY projects have become increasingly popular, the number of asbestos-related diseases have subsequently been on the rise. Keep the following in mind before starting a renovation project.
What is asbestos?
Asbestos is a known carcinogen and once popular building material heavily used in home construction between the late 1800s and 1990. Due to its impressive resistance to heat and relatively low cost, it was commonly included in everything from housing insulation, to floor tiles, roofing, and other home related products.
Asbestos is typically harmless if left undisturbed, but home demolition projects, especially when renovating older structures, call for extreme caution. If it is present and not properly extracted prior to demolition, asbestos fibers are broken down and released into the air. When inhaled, the fibers embed into the lining of the lungs and may eventually develop into mesothelioma cancer.
Mesothelioma is a deadly disease with an extremely poor prognosis. Symptoms aren’t noticeable right away as it takes anywhere between 20 to 50 years for the disease develop. Though emerging treatments and immunotherapies are showing promise for some patients, most are only given 12 to 21 months once accurately diagnosed.
The dangers of asbestos have been known for decades, yet it wasn’t officially banned in Australia until 2003. The carcinogenic mineral is still a problem today though, and can still be found in thousands of structures.. Within the last decade, mesothelioma cases have increased in Western Australia. The Medical Journal of Australia attributes the surge to the increasing popularity of do-it-yourself (DIY) home renovation projects, described as the “third wave” of asbestos-related disease. The first wave includes asbestos miners and the second wave includes workers who used products harboring the mineral.
Avoiding exposure during renovation
Mesothelioma cancer is almost entirely preventable if you take precautions to avoid asbestos exposure. Unfortunately, it can be found almost anywhere in the house because of the numerous products that contained it. In the attic, look for it in insulation and patching compounds. Pay close attention to furnaces, water heaters, and hot water piping in the basement. Unsuspected places in the kitchen may also contain asbestos, including walls, ceiling tiles, and vinyl flooring. On the home’s exterior, pay close attention to cement siding, roof shingles, under sheeting, and window putty – all are products known to have been manufactured with it in the past.
If asbestos is found within the demolition site, use proper protective gear. Most importantly, make sure to have a fitted respirator with specific asbestos-blocking filters. Wear old clothing, gloves, and goggles to keep the dust out of your eyes and remember that fibers may still release from the clothing after you’ve taken off your respirator. Seal off the demolition area and turn off any air conditioning or heaters to prevent dust from circulating. Spray down the asbestos with water to prevent flying particles and keep pieces whole, if possible. All broken pieces should be placed into leak-proof bags and kept in a sealed cardboard box until taken to a landfill that permits disposal.
Unless items are labeled as containing asbestos, it may be impossible to know exactly where it’s hiding. If unsure, it is always safer to call an abatement professional in your area. Though it may be a financial inconvenience and short-term timeline setback, the burden of enduring a cancer diagnosis down the line is much greater.
From visualisation and planning to making those plans a reality, taking a renovation into your own hands is a rewarding process. Those rewards shouldn’t come with unnecessary risks. Stay safe when taking on a new project, especially with an older home. Always take appropriate precautions and do not hesitate to contact a professional to ensure a healthy, asbestos-free reno!
Photo Credit: NECA