The use of asbestos has dropped dramatically in recent decades, yet the danger it presents within the construction industry is greater than ever.
The threat remains real. Guarding against potential exposure to the toxic substance is critical today.
Many asbestos products have been banned — making new construction much safer now — but asbestos continues to be used legally in new roofing materials and coatings, vinyl floor tiles, cement sheets, pipeline wrap and millboard.
Older construction projects, like a renovation or remodeling job, or even a demolition, can become a health-risk nightmare because of the ubiquitous use of asbestos in commercial and residential structures throughout much of the 20th century.
Once coveted for its ability to strengthen and resist heat, asbestos becomes dangerous as it ages and is disturbed. An unwitting inhalation or ingestion of the microscopic fibers can cause serious respiratory illnesses, including asbestosis, lung cancer or mesothelioma cancer.
The American Journal of Respiratory and Critical Care Medicine recently estimated that at least 1.3 million construction industry workers today are still at risk for occupational asbestos exposure.
Although there are a variety of treatment options for those who find themselves exposed to asbestos, the best medicine is prevention.
Here are some tips to help avoid exposure:
- Make sure the work area is well ventilated.
- Isolate the area where asbestos is being disturbed to avoid spreading any toxic fibers.
- Use a respirator and the proper protective gear if asbestos is present.
- Encourage prompt cleanup and disposal of asbestos contaminated debris.
- Leave work clothing at the job site, making sure it is cleaned by a crew trained in asbestos contamination.
- Wet down or use wetting agents on any asbestos materials being disturbed or disposed.
- No dry sweeping or shoveling of dust during the cleanup process.
- Proper asbestos abatement methods should be followed. A licensed abatement company should be used.
Job site standards now are designed to minimize the release of microscopic asbestos fibers. Asbestos dust can be easily spread on a jobsite, exposing those who don’t handle it directly, so caution is important. Worse is the prospect of bringing asbestos home on clothes, tools or hair where it can expose a worker’s family.
It’s easy to ignore the warnings because asbestos-related illnesses can take decades to develop. It’s why companies were so slow to stop using it despite the well-known toxicity.
Hundreds of commercial construction materials once contained asbestos. The EPA still believes that asbestos products remain in the vast majority of commercial structures in America.
“Written by the Mesothelioma Center at Asbestos.com.”