What to do about asbestos in your home: interview with the Mesothelioma Cancer Alliance By: greening homes

September 25, 2017
Indoor Health

We take asbestos very seriously at Greening Homes. Exposure to this dangerous substance can lead to a variety of diseases, particularly mesothelioma – a deadly cancer that affects the lungs primarily.

Asbestos was the material of choice for insulation, waste piping, roof shingles, tiles and other products between the 1940s and 1980s. Any buildings built prior to the 1990s likely has asbestos.

September 26 is Mesothelioma Awareness Day. To help draw awareness on asbestos and its impacts, we interviewed Emily Walsh, Director of Community Outreach at the Mesothelioma Cancer Alliance, based in Connecticut.

GH – How many people per year are diagnosed with mesothelioma in Canada? Is asbestos the sole cause of this cancer?

EW – Over 80 percent of mesothelioma cases can be attributed directly to asbestos exposure. Other risk factors are zeolites and radiation exposure. The most recent incidence and mortality states for mesothelioma are from 2013. The statistics show that in that year around 595 Canadians were diagnosed with the disease, and another 485 died. There were 470 men who were diagnosed compared to 125 women. In addition, 383 men compared to 102 women died from mesothelioma.

GH – How can a person tell if there is asbestos in their house or workplace?

EW – It is extremely difficult to spot asbestos at first glance in your home. The best advice is to ask your real estate agent, landlord, or owner if there is asbestos located somewhere in your home or workplace because they should know.

In addition, asbestos products can be found built into buildings in Canada up until the early 1990’s, so if your home or building was built before then, it is possible asbestos could be living in your home or office. It was announced that Canada will ban all use of asbestos completely by 2018!

Asbestos is considered safe when properly installed in a home or office. The problem arises when the encasing of the asbestos wears down, which can damage, disturb, and cause the asbestos to become airborne. Once airborne, they fibers are a huge health hazard.

Some products that asbestos can be found in are certain insulations, asbestos-cement pipe, tiles, siding, roofing, and vermiculite.

GH – If a person suspects that they’ve been exposed to asbestos, what should they do?

EW – If you think you have been exposed to asbestos, it is recommended that you see a doctor right away. Although mesothelioma can take time to develop, doctors can monitor any potential damage. In addition, treatment options and survival rate for mesothelioma patients are at a greater success when detected early.

There is no correlation between the amount of asbestos someone is exposed to and the link to mesothelioma cancer, which makes it extremely dangerous. The asbestos fibers are extremely strong and rigid, so as they are inhaled or swallowed, they become deeply caught in different linings of organs such as the lung, abdomen, and heart. As scar tissue forms, cancer cells can start to grow, and mesothelioma can start developing. The most common type of mesothelioma occurs in the lining of the lungs and chest wall, referred to as pleural mesothelioma.

GH – What type of asbestos is typically found in old homes? How do they rank on the danger scale?

EW – The most commonly found asbestos in homes are Chrysotile asbestos. This is the only kind of asbestos that is still mined. Some estimates show that about 95 percent of all asbestos found in buildings in the United States and Canada is Chrysotile asbestos. Due to its use, it causes the most health problems.

Amosite asbestos used to be the second-most commonly used type of asbestos, however, it has been banned in most countries for approximately 30 years and is no longer mined. It was found that many individuals were exposed during the time it was used and it was commonly found in insulation in factories and buildings.

Both of these types of asbestos are considered very dangerous as they become disturbed and damaged.

GH – When planning a renovation of a home that may have asbestos, what should a homeowner be aware of and do?

EW – The worst thing you do after planning a renovation is not to take potential asbestos in your home or building into account. All home or building owners should contact an asbestos inspector to have your area inspected before starting a home renovation.

There are many times in which asbestos exposure can occur if starting a renovation without planning for it. An expert can come remove the asbestos so that you can finish your renovation with no negative health effects.

It is recommended that you never try to remove asbestos on your own. Basic protective equipment will not fully protect you from asbestos exposure. Licensed professionals have top gear equipment that includes full HAZMAT suits and respirators.

GH – When did Mesothelioma Awareness Day begin and by who?

EW – Mesothelioma Awareness Day started in 2004 by the Meso Foundation’s community members and it has grown into a worldwide event. Other organizations started joining in and now we have created a large awareness day for this rare cancer.

GH – What do you hope to achieve with Mesothelioma Awareness Day?

EW – With Mesothelioma Awareness Day, the main goal is to try and educate the general public about the potential dangers asbestos can have and how mesothelioma cancer can develop.

If we can stop one person from being wrongfully exposed, whether that be during a renovation, or by missing a clear warning sign, then we consider that a small win for all of us. The hope is that we can continue to educate so that someday we can help prevent any and all exposure to asbestos with the end goal being to eliminate future cases of mesothelioma.

GH – Anything else our readers should be aware of?

EW – I think readers should just always be mindful of their homes and workplaces. If you see anything suspicious or are unsure, it is better to just say something or to even hire an inexpensive asbestos inspector to come and test your home or workplace. It’s always better to be safe than sorry, and any fee for an asbestos inspector is worth your family’s health!

Mesothelioma Cancer Alliance’s website offers a treasure trove of information about mesothelioma and asbestos. Visit: www.mesothelioma.com

Photo of vermiculite (asbestos) in the attic. Photo courtesy of The Healthy Abode Inc.