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Asbestos In Your House? Signs & Symptoms

An old house is closed off with plastic liner in the doorway that has a warning sign reading "Asbestos."

Asbestos is a natural mineral fiber that works well in many manufactured goods. Manufacturers have used it for construction, automotive parts, and textiles for years. But is it dangerous? Is there a risk of poisoning? Find out!

What Is asbestos?

Asbestos is a natural fiber occurring in rocks and soil. These naturally occurring asbestos silicate minerals are made up of thin, microscopic fibers. The mineral fibers are resistant to chemicals, electricity, and heat, making them a popular addition to various products.

What Does Asbestos Look Like?

In its natural ore state, unprocessed asbestos comes in various colors, including white, green, blue, and brown. Manufacturers process the ore, which breaks it down into spongy fibers. These fibers are usually combined with materials like plastic and cement. They are not always easy to identify by the eye, but if a material with asbestos is damaged, you can see the small fibers. 

Where Can Asbestos Be Found?

Manufacturers use asbestos for household construction pieces and automotive parts. Some common places it’s found are: 

  • In attic and wall insulation 
  • Roofing and siding shingles
  • Textured paint and patching compounds for walls and ceilings
  • Vinyl floor tiles
  • Backing on vinyl sheet flooring and adhesives
  • Around hot water and steam pipes
  • Car brakes and clutches

When Was It Used in Homes?

Asbestos was heavily used in building houses from the 1940s through the 1970s. Builders used it a lot because of its effective and inexpensive fire-retardant material and its heat and sound-resistant qualities.

Why Can Asbestos Be Dangerous?

It can break down into microscopic thin fibers. After they are initially disturbed, these tiny fibers can remain airborne for days. This can be dangerous if someone inhales them into their lungs.

A microscopic view of asbestos and how the material looks like fine fibers.

What Health Issues Can Asbestos Cause?

Inhaling asbestos fibers can cause a series of health problems. It increases the risk of asbestosis, mesothelioma, and cancers such as lung cancer. Smokers are at a higher risk because cigarette smoke irritates the lung passage making it harder for the lungs to remove these fibers. Other health issues that experts have linked to asbestos exposures include the increased risk of digestive system cancers, including colon cancer.

What is Asbestosis & What are the Symptoms?

Asbestosis is a condition that affects the lungs of someone who has breathed in asbestos fibers regularly. This condition doesn’t usually occur until years after inhaling this substance. 

Symptoms include:

  • Cough
  • Shortness of breath
  • Permanent lung damage
  • Chest pain
  • Fingernails and toenails that look oddly wide or round

How Do Health Professionals Screen For Asbestos-Related Diseases?

Symptoms are barely noticeable in the early stages of development. But, if someone has a history of heavy asbestos exposure, visiting a health care professional to screen for asbestos-related diseases could be life-saving. Usually, doctors will use a combination of tests to help find potential problems before symptoms can occur.

Is it Possible to Avoid Exposure?

Asbestos is in the air, water, and soil and is so common that everyone has been around it at one point or another. Yet, exposure to low levels is unlikely to make you sick. The chances of forming a disease related to this substance are low unless you work directly with it on a regular basis.

Since the 1970s, the U.S. government has controlled the use of asbestos. We no longer mine or process it in this country, yet it is still in some vinyl floor tiles, clothes, cement pipes, and brake pads. So, demolishing or remodeling an older home or building can cause these fibers to fill the air.

Someone wearing gloves holds a piece of asbestos with tweezers.Think You May Have Asbestos in Your House?

In most cases, material containing asbestos in good condition will not release fibers into the air. Disturbing the material may cause a health hazard that didn’t exist before. So, the best thing to do is leave the material alone. 

But what if you find damage to a piece of material that you believe contains asbestos?

1. Isolate the Area

Keep yourself and others safe in the house by blocking off the entrance to the affected area. Even if you are not sure it’s asbestos material, it’s better to have it checked by a professional to be sure. Don’t go into the area without personal protective equipment (PPE). PPE includes gloves, goggles, protective clothing, and respiratory protection. 

2. Call a Professional For An Inspection

Have a professional assess the area to find out if asbestos is present. An inspector will examine the area and carefully collect and analyze samples. They will create a written evaluation that will describe the location of the material, the extent of damage and give recommendations for prevention or correction. After the inspector creates the report, a homeowner can contact an asbestos abatement contractor to help form a clean-up plan.

3. Contact an Asbestos Abatement Contractor

An abatement contractor will help create a plan to clean up the damaged area according to your area’s federal, state, and local regulations. If you don’t know these regulations, the Environmental Protection Agency’s regional office and the Occupational Safety and Health Administration’s regional office will have more information about these regulations. 

4. Cleaning Your House After

If there is asbestos exposure in your house, make sure to follow the instructions outlined by a professional before performing any cleanup. Do not carry contaminated clothing or other materials to other parts of the house where your family members are. Seal the area as best as you can to keep family members from entering. Do not dust, sweep, or vacuum material that may contain this substance. This can release the fibers into the air. Take steps outlined by the professional contractor or your state or local health department to reduce the risk of exposure to yourself and your family. 

Call The Missouri Poison Center – We’re Here To Answer Poisoning Questions!

Do you have more questions about the risks and symptoms of asbestos exposure? Don’t hesitate to give us a call! At the Missouri Poison Center, registered nurses and pharmacists are here 24/7 to provide you with poison and toxicology advice. 

Don’t wait. Call now! 1-800-222-1222. Or get our app and have poison advice with you wherever you go, ready for any emergency poison exposure.

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