Protecting Your Lungs From a Dangerous Environment
When people think of air pollution, they often think of carbon dioxide or gasoline fumes. They rarely think of other toxic air pollutants like asbestos. Because asbestos is fibrous and brittle, it is easily disbursed into the air and readily inhaled or ingested. Microscopic asbestos fibers are often invisible to the naked eye and can be a hidden danger in many older homes and buildings.
Asbestos is known to cause cancer and other respiratory and digestive diseases, and this is what makes asbestos exposure dangerous. Once asbestos is in the body, it can remain for long periods of time and cause tissue and DNA damage. It often takes 20 to 50 years for the symptoms of an asbestos-related disease to surface.
Diseases such as asbestosis (scarring of the lung tissue), lung cancer and mesothelioma (cancer of the lining of the lungs or abdominal cavity) are all caused by asbestos. Mesothelioma is a particularly aggressive cancer and because symptoms take so long to appear, many patients are diagnosed in later stages when treatment options are limited. Currently, there is no known cure for mesothelioma.
Safe Levels of Asbestos Exposure
The Occupational Safety & Health Administration (OSHA) sets an “acceptable” level of asbestos exposure at 0.1 fiber per cubic centimeter of air in an eight-hour time period. This measurement is taken in a sample period of 30 minutes.
Though OSHA sets this limit of exposure for people who may be working with asbestos, it is important to know that there is no safe level of asbestos exposure. Some people who have been exposed to relatively small amounts of asbestos have developed illnesses. The best policy is to avoid all exposure to asbestos.
In fact, the World Health Organization (WHO) maintains that the only way to stop asbestos-related disease is to ban all uses of asbestos and thereby prevent exposure.
If you live in an older home built before the 1980s, chances are there asbestos-containing materials (ACMs) are in your home. It is a good idea to have these ACMs inspected by a licensed professional to ensure they are not contaminating the air in your home. If you choose to have them removed, also make sure that you hire a licensed abatement (removal) company.
* * *
This has been a guest post for Easy Ways to Go Green. Michelle Llamas is a writer for the Mesothelioma Center. She is committed to generating awareness about the dangers of asbestos exposure and providing information regarding breakthroughs in mesothelioma treatment. Sources: Occupational Safety & Health Administration. (n.d.). Toxic and hazardous substances: Asbestos. Retrieved May 24, 2012, here.