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21st Century Asbestos: Is It Still An Issue?

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Photo by Tim Mascara, April 2017 WFAE News

Believe it or not, it is.

In Davidson, North Carolina the EPA issued a major asbestos cleanup for twenty homes surrounding what used to be the Carolina Asbestos Factory. Back between the 1930s and 1960s, people literally paid for asbestos to be delivered to their homes to cover their driveways or level their yards. Now, that asbestos is causing harm, so the EPA sent out guys in suits and gas masks to clean it up.

Mowing Lawns in White Suits, Gas Masks as Davidson Cleanup Gets Underway

About 1.3 million people in the U.S. today are still exposed to asbestos in their work environment

These environments include construction, military, auto mechanics, insulators, plumbers, electricians, and even teachers.

How does asbestos affect so many industries?

Asbestos is a heat and fire resistant material that was used in most residential homes and commercial buildings between the 1940s and 1970s. It was used for insulating attics, heat pipes, roofing, tile floors, ceilings, and siding materials. Despite its durable qualities, asbestos is a known cause of mesothelioma, which is cancer of the lungs.

90% of Mesothelioma cases are linked to Asbestos

This means that if you live in a house or operate a business out of a building built before 1980, you likely have an asbestos issue. It may not be affecting you at the moment, but it has likely affected the people that directly handled those materials years back.

Part of the lingering problem is that it is not always easy to identify which building products actually contain asbestos. And when it is found, it has to be contained instead of torn down – which will only make matters worse.

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Asbestos in Public Buildings

As long as the mineral stays contained in its original building materials, it is basically harmless. It  becomes an issue when the material begins to break down, or is manually disturbed through renovation or demolitions. This releases the fibers into the air, and recovering them is virtually impossible.

It turns out that asbestos in schools has been a concern for quite some time. According to the EPA, asbestos resides in around 132,000 primary and secondary schools in the U.S. This is an issue because minors are most at-risk for developing health issues caused by asbestos exposure.

Managing the Asbestos Problem

As a home or business owner, there’s not a whole lot that you can do. It’s more of a matter of when it will get bad, and how to manage it when it does. The EPA has been taking steps over the past several years to limit the use of and exposure to asbestos. In 1989, the manufacturing, importation, and sale of products with asbestos was banned, however, it is still used in certain products, such as car brakes and clutches, and roofing materials.

Roofing products account for roughly 72% of asbestos use

Also, as an extension of The Clean Air Act, there are now requirements for safely handling materials containing asbestos. This focuses on building renovations and remodels, requiring a certified inspector to test the air and building structures.

These requirements also affect the sale and purchase of homes and commercial buildings. Full disclosure of property information is mandatory, and it is recommended that both real estate agent and potential buyer test for asbestos. This is a simple preventative step to avoid a potential lawsuit.

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So yes, asbestos is still an issue.

It is an issue we created for ourselves years ago, and have been slow to correct. This being the case, it is important that homeowners, business owners, realtors, and construction workers alike are aware of the effects and the conditions for which asbestos can be exposed. Don’t wait for cracks in your ceiling or tile floors, hire an expert to come out and inspect your home or business before anyone else is exposed.