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Recognize the dangers of household asbestos in home renovations

Do you work in construction? If so, you probably think a lot about the dangers of the job -- slips, falls and electrocutions are a constant threat.

But, what about asbestos? When you work on a brand new construction, asbestos isn't a danger -- since it's no longer in use. When you work a home renovation, however, asbestos may be lurking in places you don't even expect.

Most people -- even construction workers -- tend to associate asbestos with insulation and assume that if a house was built after 1975 it's probably free of asbestos. However, asbestos was used for far more than thermal insulation. Many of the products that contain asbestos were still available in the old stock of building supply stores or were part of homeowners' stockpiles.

Microscopic asbestos fibers can be in the following materials that are commonly removed during remodels:

  • Linoleum or vinyl tiles
  • Shingles and other roofing materials
  • Window caulk or glazes
  • Wood that has been glued down (the glue itself may contain asbestos)
  • Old siding materials
  • Fiber cement products
  • Plaster
  • Paint

Keep in mind that you can't base your assessment of the dangers of asbestos during a home renovation on what the homeowner tells you about the home's construction. Nor can use the health of the occupants as a way to judge your own risks.

Most homeowners don't know everything that might have asbestos in it. In addition, homeowners may have been living in the center of asbestos-laden products for decades without any health issues. Asbestos products aren't inherently dangerous to be around -- at least while they're in good shape. It's when they've begun to corrode or are ripped up for replacement that the asbestos fibers can get into the air and into people's lungs.

It's also important to realize that there's no such thing as "a little asbestos exposure." While serious damage might not happen to your lungs until you've been exposed repeatedly to asbestos fibers during home renovations, each exposure -- no matter how small -- is part of the cumulative toll taken on your health.

Insist on using personal protective gear during all home renovations that may possibly contain asbestos. That includes gloves, coveralls (so that you don't bring asbestos home with you on your clothing) and a face mask that's designed to protect your lungs.

Source: This Old House, "What You Need to Know About Asbestos," Lee Snodgrass, accessed March 07, 2018

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