For decades, asbestos was considered a superior ingredient in construction materials because if its invulnerability: asbestos is uber strong (as defined by tensile strength) and incredibly resistant to fire, heat, chemical and electrical damage.
But the strength that gives asbestos its permanence is also the strength that makes it a veritable weapon of mass destruction in our own homes and workplaces.
According to the World Health Organization (WHO), approximately 125 million people in the world are exposed to asbestos at their workplaces and more than 107 million people exposed at their job sites die each year from the three deadly asbestos-related diseases: mesothelioma, lung cancer and asbestosis. But that’s not all; the WHO also estimates that several thousand deaths per year are a direct result of in-home exposure to asbestos.
So how are people exposed in their own homes and workplaces?
Well, first there is the big elephant in the room: the lack of a global ban on asbestos (including the lack of a United States ban). That means that even today, armed with all the scientific and undisputed knowledge that we have connecting asbestos exposure to fatal mesothelioma and other diseases, people are mining, packing trucking and manufacturing asbestos around the world. While some of it comes into the United States where the use is regulated (though still dangerous), rapidly developing countries like India are getting more than their fair share – along with no regulation, no education and massive toxic exposure.
Second, asbestos is present in just about every home and building built before the mid 1970’s. Looking up? It’s probably in your insulation and in those roof shingles. Outside? That siding likely contains asbestos. In your bedroom? Those sheetrock walls were probably patched together using asbestos-filled joint compound.
And even though your home was built years ago, the asbestos fibers that are inside those construction products are as viable as ever – and just as likely to cause horrific disease if inhaled or ingested today as they were the first day they were mined.
On the bright side, the asbestos in your home (mine too as this writer is sitting in a 1950s bungalow) will not jump out of the wall into your lungs. It will stay quietly and safely in your walls unless you decide to tear out that old sheetrock, sand those popcorn ceilings or replace that attic insulation. But if that day comes, take heed. The asbestos that was mined decades ago for its strength would love to have a comeback.
Don’t let it. Instead, call a professional who deals with asbestos removal.
For a complete list of possible asbestos products in the home: