Construction safety often extends further than one might think and encompasses much more than what meets the eye. While it’s important to be cautious of slip and fall hazards, other dangers like asbestos exposure may not be so obvious, but they are still prevalent within the industry.
Asbestos was used in nearly every building product, making any structure built before 1980 a potential health threat. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) estimates that about 1.3 million construction workers and related roles are exposed to asbestos on the job, putting employees at a significant risk of developing an asbestos-related disease. This invisible toxin is difficult to identify, but recognizing how to prevent exposure and protect your lungs in vulnerable circumstances can save you trouble in the long run.
A Toxic History
Asbestos is a natural mineral that once proved extremely beneficial to the building trade. Not only is the substance known for its flexibility and strength, it also allowed products to resist high temperatures and sustain themselves in harsh conditions. While the life-threatening health effects associated with asbestos were discovered as early as the 1920s, the mineral’s use peaked in the early 1970s. During this time the U.S. manufactured and consumed more than 800,000 tons of the mineral, making many buildings vulnerable to exposure today. This raises a public health concern, as natural disasters can damage contaminated structures and carry asbestos fibers for miles.
Where Asbestos Hides Today
Although the U.S. has heavily regulated its use, consumer products are still legally allowed to contain up to 1% of this mineral. No amount of exposure is safe, and once the fibers are inhaled, you significantly increase your risk of developing several chronic illnesses, including lung cancer or the aggressive case of mesothelioma. If you work or reside in an old or historic building, these materials are presumed to be a potential hazard:
- Vinyl floor tiles
- Plaster or caulk
- Sheet metal
- Roof shingles
- Spray-on coatings
- Heating ducts
- Wood stoves
How to Reduce Your Risk
Asbestos-containing materials are considered safe when they’re in good condition, but if they age to the point of degradation or become damaged, they may release carcinogenic fibers into the air. To safeguard your lungs, you should never touch or attempt to manage asbestos abatement on your own, as you run the risk of exposing yourself and anyone nearby to airborne fibers.
The best solution is to contact a professional who can either repair or remove the materials and inspect the building for further contamination. Even though asbestos is not banned, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has included this toxin under the top ten most dangerous chemicals that harm the public’s health. This is a huge step forward for our nation as this mineral is one of the leading causes of occupational cancer today.
Through increased education and awareness, those who may be at risk of exposure to asbestos, or who may have already been exposed, can take preventative action and monitor their health regularly.
Contributing Author: Rosie Rosati, Health Advocate for the Mesothelioma + Asbestos Awareness Center.
The MAA Center is dedicated to raising awareness on the dangers behind asbestos and providing anyone affected by exposure with the latest research, treatment options, and support. While we wait for a ban on this known human carcinogen, the MAA Center hopes to educate the public on how they can take an active role in reducing their risk of developing an asbestos-related disease.