People shudder at the very mention of that world. It has practically become synonymous with plutonium and cyanide. But is asbestos as dangerous as its reputation claims it to be? The short answer is “yes,” but the long answer begins with “it’s complicated.” If you ever wanted to know how to find out if there is asbestos in your home and whether this means that downright apocalyptic matters shall befall you and your family, here’s the strange thing about asbestos…
Why is it dangerous?
Asbestos is a naturally occurring mineral with incredible insulating properties. It is highly resistant, cheap to produce and versatile, which is why it has been so popular in the building industry. However, it turned out that, as time wears on, the porous asbestos tends to crumble and the micro-fiber particles become airborne. As we breathe, they end up jammed in our lungs and the surrounding tissue, which can cause a very aggressive and dangerous type of cancer known as mesothelioma. Asbestos can also cause a whole litany of respiratory issue, some of which – like asbestosis – can be fatal.
There are many types of asbestos used in building materials, and while the white type which was used most often is the “least cancerous” one, it is still immensely dangerous. The first strange thing about asbestos is that its “toxicity” is not radiological or chemically toxic in the formal sense – it is, let’s say, “mechanical.” The micro fibers jam into cells like lances, and the cells, unable to deal with them, begin to “act out” and mutate.
Will you find it in your home?
If your home or apartment is more than 20 to 30 years old, the answer is almost certainly yes. The thing is – asbestos is literally everywhere. In small quantities it naturally occurs in the air and ground, but it was so extensively used in building after the World War II and until roughly the end of the 1980s that its ubiquity is impossible to deny. It was used in floor glue, wall putty, orange peel, as pipe isolation, etc. Its use has since become extremely limited in most countries. Now the question is –should you panic about it?
Should you panic about it?
The short answer to this question is – definitely no. Panic will not help anyone and this brings us to another strange issue about asbestos. Even though it’s present literally everywhere, sometimes in a very loose form, its effects are, by their very nature, “controversial.” Some people develop asbestos-related cancer in the first three to five years after exposure. Others develop it twenty or even forty to fifty years after exposure.
The terrifying and head-scratching thing about is that the prognosis is so flexible. You may be slowly developing mesothelioma over the course of decades, which is as terrifying as it sounds. On the other side of the spectrum, it is not uncommon, considering how present asbestos is in building material, that people live out their entire natural lives exposed to not carefully kept asbestos and die from completely different causes deep in their eighties. This is an aspect that makes this material at the same time strange and controversial.
What’s the controversy?
If it is such a potent carcinogen, asbestos should naturally be avoided, yet for most people it is not within the realm of financial possibility to move out of their homes and apartments to the freshly built digs. Acute exposure appears to be just as dangerous as the chronic, but many people, considering how unpredictable its effects are, shrug it off and say “then it’s just like anything else, and you’ve gotta die of something.” It should be noted that most people who say this have not seen anyone struck by the asbestos-related malady.
Asbestos was used extensively in the United States, Canada and, above all else, in Australia, which is why the most cases of this illness occur here. On the one hand, if you live in a metropolis and you are anxious about it, you can do reliable asbestos testing in Sydney, but what you do next is what counts the most.
What to do?
You see, as it turned out, asbestos removal can actually be the most dangerous thing of all. Even if it is done by professionals, if they are not using absolute cutting-edge methods of removal, the particles will become airborne in copious quantities. If the state of the asbestos material is good, it’s best to leave it untouched. Most people end up just covering it with another layer of material.
For example, if your interior walls are covered with thirty- to forty-year-old orange peel, the best thing is to repaint it with a thick layer of fresh paint. The danger is also effectively reduced if you keep your household “airy” – in other words, asbestos particles are extremely light and they will be removed from your household by a nice draft. DO NOT ever, under any circumstances, try to remove it yourself.
The thing about interior building materials is that you are not breathing in the asbestos particles – you are breathing in mineral particles that contain asbestos. There are other materials in that mix, which increases the chance for your lungs to clean it out. The piping and old furnaces are what you should really be careful about. They usually contain a lot of free-floating asbestos that’s slowly but surely crumbling into a deadly poison, and you should consult with professionals about insulating or removing these hotspots.
The health issues and logistical matters related to asbestos are much more complicated than this, but the gist is that, once you do the extensive research, it becomes apparent that it is a material that should be phased out of building as soon as possible. It is very dangerous, but its effect on each living organism depends heavily on a number of factors of comorbidity and influence. At the end of the day, we all live with asbestos in our immediate surroundings and it’s impossible to discover its presence until the illness manifests or before the tests are done. Be cautious, don’t panic.