Asbestos and DIY Dangers
Approximately 3,000 people are diagnosed each year with mesothelioma, a rare form of aggressive cancer. Because of its rarity, the disease is often misdiagnosed in its early stages and many individuals are not familiar with the dangers of this cancer or the related risk factors. Events like Mesothelioma Awareness Day, which occurs every year on September 26, are especially important for raising awareness about this preventable disease.
Though mesothelioma is typically associated with older generations, and men specifically, various demographics and populations are at risk for developing this disease. This is because asbestos, the only known cause of mesothelioma, was used in the construction of homes, buildings, and even consumer products prior to the 1980s. Because of this, it is extremely important for everyone to know where they might be exposed to asbestos and the dangerous effects it can have.
Asbestos and Asbestos-Containing Materials
Asbestos is a super durable, heat-resistant fiber that was commonly used throughout the U.S. during the 1900s. Though exposure is typically associated with male-dominated occupations and industries, asbestos can present a problem for anyone if they come into contact with this deadly carcinogen.
Though asbestos is not dangerous when it is already in place, it becomes an immediate hazard if an asbestos-containing material (ACM) is damaged or disturbed. When an ACM is broken, microscopic asbestos fibers can be released into the air. If these fibers are inhaled or ingested, they can become stuck in the lining of the lungs, heart, or abdomen. Asbestos fibers can cause irritation and scarring in these areas, leading to the development of malignant mesothelioma tumors.
There are three main types of mesothelioma cancer: pleural, peritoneal, and pericardial. Pleural mesothelioma, which forms in the linings of the lungs or chest, is the most common diagnosis. Peritoneal mesothelioma is a rarer form of the disease that forms in the lining of the abdomen. Pericardial mesothelioma, which develops in the lining of the heart, is the least common form of mesothelioma cancer.
The life expectancy for individuals diagnosed with mesothelioma is low, as most patients live between six months and two years after they are diagnosed. One of the reasons for the low survival rate is the disease’s long latency period. Symptoms of mesothelioma can begin to show anywhere from 10 to 50 years after initial exposure, which can make it difficult to connect patients to moments of asbestos exposure. Additionally, the early signs of mesothelioma are often mistaken for symptoms associated with more common illnesses, such as pneumonia or the flu. Factors like these make it difficult to achieve an early diagnosis, which can have adverse effects on survival rate.
Being Aware Before Taking on a DIY Project
Though men are still the largest population at risk for developing mesothelioma, researchers and doctors have begun to show concern for what has been labeled nationally and internationally as a “third wave” of asbestos exposure, which focuses specifically on groups not typically associated with asbestos exposure. One major cause of asbestos-related diseases in people younger than 55 is linked to demolition or renovation that stirs up asbestos that was originally installed before current regulations were in place. This is something homeowners need to pay careful attention to.
A surge in home renovation and DIY projects could mean more people are unknowingly exposed to asbestos. Recent news stories have discussed how prevalent these projects have become, suggesting Americans are “doubling down on remodeling” and that “the DIY impulse is strong” when they are tackling these construction ventures. However, it is extremely important to make sure you aren’t exposing yourself to harmful toxins when renovating your home or taking on a project.
Before you begin any renovation or demolition, you should know when your house was built. If it was built prior to the 1980s, it is possible there is asbestos in your home, and you should proceed with caution. If you can leave undamaged ACMs alone during your renovation, this will minimize any risk of exposure. If you know you need to renovate a structure and are unsure if asbestos is present, you should hire a trained and accredited asbestos inspector to collect samples for testing. If you know you have to repair or remove a structure that contains asbestos, you should contact an accredited asbestos contractor who can handle the asbestos safely. This final step is the most costly, unfortunately, but it is the only way to ensure that you are not exposed to asbestos during a removal or a repair.