Asbestos is a natural mineral fiber that is known for its strength, heat resistance and insulative properties. These qualities make asbestos a useful component of numerous building materials, including insulation, ceiling tiles, flooring felt and others. However, when someone inhales or ingests asbestos fibers, they can cause problems in the body. Any amount of asbestos exposure could cause illnesses like asbestosis, lung cancer and mesothelioma.
For decades, the construction workers who installed asbestos materials risked exposure to this toxic substance. Today, many people mistakenly believe that asbestos is no longer used and, therefore, no longer a problem. The use of some asbestos products has stopped, but unfortunately, many construction workers are still at risk.
Not all asbestos products are banned
The United States does not entirely ban asbestos products. The construction industry regularly uses many related products.
Asbestos also remains a hazard in the construction industry because most of the asbestos products installed before the 1970s remain in use. As buildings get updated, demolition or renovation crews may encounter these products.
Even if the products are not damaged in the construction, they may have degraded over time. Any sort of disturbance or deterioration could cause asbestos fibers to break free. Once in the air, someone could inhale or ingest them without realizing it.
How to minimize risks
If you work in the construction industry, there are ways you can protect yourself from asbestos exposure. Consider protecting yourself by:
- Wearing a facemask with a P100 filter rating
- Wearing clothes that completely cover your skin
- Making sure to bag, label and properly dispose of clothes
- Wearing safety glasses that will prevent dust from getting in your eyes
- Obtaining an EPA certification in asbestos abatement
- Taking out nails and screws before removing building materials
- Using hand tools instead of power tools
- Wetting materials before removing them
- Ensuring the work area has good ventilation
- Showering immediately after leaving a job site, even when you covered your body up
If there is a chance you may have already been exposed to asbestos, it may be valuable to share this information with your doctor and request regular cancer screenings. This can help you receive the correct diagnosis and treatment as soon as possible, should you develop an asbestos-related health condition.