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Deteriorating building materials could expose workers to asbestos

There are times when everyone gets a little sick of their job. However, there are also times when a job could make someone seriously ill. Whether you love your job or hate it, some hazardous building materials present in your workplace could be risking your health.

This may be the case for a Pennsylvania teacher who was recently diagnosed with mesothelioma. She plans to sue the Philadelphia School District in relation to her diagnosis. Mesothelioma is an aggressive form of cancer that is usually caused by asbestos exposure.

The teacher worked in the school district for 30 years. Two buildings that she worked in have documented asbestos problems. However, media reports indicate she was unaware that there was asbestos in those buildings while she worked for the school district.

She regularly touched the asbestos-wrapped steam pipes in her classroom as she hung student work for display. Because of this, she likely inhaled asbestos particles every day at work. Now, the teacher has had to give up her career because of her diagnosis.

Do you know what asbestos looks like?

People commonly recognize asbestos as a cancer-causing substance. However, most people, like this Philadelphia teacher, do not know what the substance looks like and are unable to tell when exposure to the substance is likely to occur.

Asbestos is a group of naturally-occurring minerals composed of particles with a needle-like structure that can make the substance appear fibrous. Because of its insulative and fire-resistant qualities, numerous building products used in the 20th Century incorporated asbestos. Unfortunately, combining asbestos with other substances makes it more challenging for workers and homeowners to tell if asbestos is present.

Some building materials that could expose workers to asbestos include:

  • Adhesives
  • Ceiling and floor tiles
  • Insulation for boilers, pipes, ducts and water heaters
  • Fire-resistant cloth
  • Sheeting in fire-proof cabinets
  • Interior wall paint
  • Window putty
  • Drywall
  • Fire doors
  • Carpet underlay
  • Fire-resistant cupboards
  • Gaskets on pipes and boilers
  • Underground cement pipes

Testing may be the only reliable way to identify asbestos products

Although these and other products could contain asbestos, it is often difficult for workers to know for sure. Product labels may not be visible. Authorities had not yet standardized Material Safety Data Sheets and Hazard Communication Labels when builders commonly used asbestos. Also, there are not always noticeable differences between products that contain asbestos and products that do not. Often, the only way to be certain if a product contains asbestos is to have it tested in a lab.

Most office buildings, warehouses and storage facilities built or remodeled between 1940 and 1990 contain asbestos products. If your workplace was built during that time period, it might be safest to assume that several of its building products probably do contain asbestos.

It may also be helpful to keep in mind that building materials that contain asbestos may not release particles into the air unless someone or something disturbs the materials. However, the natural aging process of these products can also make particles airborne.

What could happen if a worker inhales asbestos particles?

Not everyone exposed to asbestos will get mesothelioma, but authorities do not consider any amount of asbestos exposure safe. Typically, mesothelioma does not develop until decades after someone inhales asbestos particles.

If you believe your workplace exposed you to asbestos, you may consider talking with your doctor. Regular examinations can help identify mesothelioma right away if it does develop. Workers with a mesothelioma diagnosis may also have legal options to hold responsible parties accountable.

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