Renovating and remodeling old houses can be great for your new home or your business, but it can also be bad for your health. In houses built before 1982, for instance, the widespread use of several fireproofed products could expose you and your family to cancer-causing toxins, such as asbestos.
Today, the dangers of asbestos and its link to cancer are well-known (thanks to a spate of daytime mesothelioma commercials). Yet, in the decades between the turn of the twentieth century and the 1980s, the fiber was added to metals, rubbers, adhesives, insulation, and more to add tensile strength as well as heat-resistance. It wasn’t until thousands of American workers began to sue the companies responsible for their cancer in the 1980s that use of the material waned.
Asbestos in Your Home
Though the asbestos-limiting regulations of the 1980s curtailed most of the commercial manufacture of asbestos, it had already found its way into tens of thousands of household products, including:
- Boilers and tanks
- Flooring and tiles
- Fuse boxes
- Main electrical meters
- Plumbing and pipes
- Roofing and shingles
- Textile fuse linings
Undisturbed, asbestos poses little risk to humans. However, moving the brittle material could cause it to break into smaller pieces and send asbestos dust into the air. Airborne asbestos is the primary source of exposure risk to home renovators.
Because the material hasn’t been banned, you could be at risk of asbestos exposure during ordinary home remodeling work or ground-up renovations. You could encounter asbestos while replacing old linoleum floors or tearing up frayed wiring throughout your home.
Once asbestos dust enters the body through the nose or mouth, its tiny particles can travel deep into the airways of the lungs or into the lining of the abdominal or heart cavities. Inside your body, they will become stuck in the cells of some tissues. The dust cannot be removed, and the human body is unable to expel them through coughing or normal cellular activity. Over time, the toxic particles may cause changes to the DNA of your cells, possibly resulting in tumors and/or malignant cancers.
Reducing Your Risk of Cancer
Asbestos has become a known carcinogen across the world, leading to diseases like lung cancer, pleural plaques, and asbestosis and mesothelioma. Moreover, respiratory problems caused by toxic exposure often don’t produce symptoms until up to 40 years later.
Symptoms of asbestos-caused diseases include:
- Cough lasting at least 8 weeks
- Worsening cough
- Difficulty breathing
- Shortness of breath
- Swelling in the abdomen or upper body
- Pain coming from the side of the chest or lower back
Though the latency period of lung cancer and other, related illnesses from asbestos can take years, recognizing the signs of cancer are vital to catching it early. In the early stages of cancer, patients generally have more treatment options. Additionally, some types of cancer may be curable when diagnosed in stage I or stage II. Conversely, stages III and IV cancers are considered advanced and are much more difficult to treat.
To reduce your risk of developing long-term health problems caused by asbestos, you must focus on reducing your exposure to the material. Most renovation guidelines suggest wearing the appropriate personal protective equipment (PPE) before beginning any type of potentially hazardous remodeling work. This may include a face mask and goggles to cover your eyes. It is also recommended to use an N95 NIOSH-approved mask, which is proven to be effective in situations where you may be exposed to harmful airborne particles, such as those that may be present during asbestos removal or renovation work. Other types of renovation may require you to protect your hair and skin as well.
If you need to dispose of asbestos-containing material, make sure to follow all of your state’s asbestos disposal regulations. For instance, most states require renovators to dump toxic items in designated waste sites only. Often, these landfill sites charge per pound or by the ton to dispose of contaminated material.
Check your state or county’s public health website for more information about asbestos removal and disposal.
When to Hire a Contractor for Asbestos Remediation
Some instances of asbestos can be handled by amateur renovators. However, because asbestos is known to cause cancer and there is no safe amount of exposure to its particles, some situations that require asbestos remediation also call for professional intervention.
Similar to hiring a mold inspection and remediation company, professional asbestos removal services will conduct a visual inspection of all potentially contaminated areas in your home. Next, they will gather samples from affected areas and test the air for toxic particles. As the fiber may have been built into several parts of the house, a top-to-bottom inspection is mandatory in many cases.
You can avoid hiring untrustworthy contractors by following the tips of Jody Costello, one of the country’s leading experts in renovation and contractor fraud. Too, join the Home Remodeling Bootcamp For Women for hands-on training and advice.
Destiny Bezrutczyk is a digital content writer with six years’ experience editing and writing targeted, long- and short-form content for the web and social media. Her work includes topics spanning personal injury and wrongful death law, cancer care and medical research, as well as addiction and the mental healthcare industry. Read her current health care and lung cancer treatment content at lungcancercenter.com.
American Cancer Society. (2018). Signs and Symptoms of Mesothelioma. Retrieved on March 23, 2021, from https://www.cancer.org/cancer/malignant-mesothelioma/detection-diagnosis-staging/signs-symptoms.html
American Cancer Society. (2019). About Malignant Mesothelioma. Retrieved on March 23, 2021, from https://www.cancer.org/content/dam/CRC/PDF/Public/8733.00.pdf
Australian Government Asbestos Safety and Eradication Agency. (2017). Asbestos awareness information for electricians. Retrieved on March 23, 2021, from https://www.asbestossafety.gov.au/sites/asea/files/documents/2018-03/ASEA%20Electricians%20DL_NECA_HiRes.pdf
Sirajuddin and Kanne. (2009). Occupational Lung Disease. Retrieved on March 23, 2021, from https://journals.lww.com/thoracicimaging/fulltext/2009/11000/occupational_lung_disease.8.aspx
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