The occupational exposure to asbestos remains a major health hazard to workers who are involved in the restoration, rehabilitation and repair of older buildings. Asbestos exposure causes latent medical conditions such as: asbestosis, lung cancer and mesothelioma, a fatal malignancy. Asbestos is still not banned in the US.
During National Asbestos Awareness Week, April 1-7, I urge Americans to learn about the dangers of asbestos exposure.
Asbestos is a mineral fiber that occurs naturally in our environment; in rock and in soil. Because of its fiber strength and heat resistance, asbestos has traditionally been used in a variety of building construction materials, as insulation and as a fire retardant.
Activity that disturbs asbestos causes small asbestos fibers to float in the air. Inhaling these fibers leads to asbestos-related diseases. Three of the major health effects associated with asbestos exposure are lung cancer; mesothelioma, a rare form of cancer that is found in the thin lining of the lungs, chest, abdomen and heart; and asbestosis, a serious progressive, long-term, non-cancer disease of the lungs.
Anyone who disturbs asbestos is at risk. However, it is of special concern for construction, insulation, and demolition workers, pipefitters, boilermakers and others who might disturb asbestos found in old buildings or equipment as part of their work. The hazard is also very real to home handymen, first-responders, and community volunteers.