Evaluating Homes and Household Items for Asbestos
While many of us know dust, smoke and pet dander found in homes can cause and trigger respiratory illnesses, it is easy for people to overlook the carcinogens that are lurking inside our living spaces as well. People all across the United States spend 90 percent of their time indoors, whether it be in office, residential or commercial spaces. Indoor air quality (IAQ) is crucial for good health, so increasing awareness about the link between health and the built environment is vital to the well-being of all people.
During the construction boom in the 20th century, cheaper materials and faster options through prefabricated materials became popular. Unfortunately, many of these options also contained asbestos, a naturally occurring mineral that was used both in manufactured items and as a raw material. For the better part of the 20th century, asbestos was often used in items ranging from insulation, pipe fittings, drywall, popcorn ceilings, tiling and plaster to consumer products like crockpots, clothing and home decor. Asbestos use drastically declined after 1980, years after the mineral was recognized as a human carcinogen; however, it is still legal and used to this day in the United States, mostly found in imported items.
Asbestos fibers are largely harmless if untouched and undisturbed; once the items are broken or damaged, the fibers are released into the air and dangerous to human health. Once inhaled, the fibers can over time lead to irritation and potentially cause tumors to form, resulting in the development of an asbestos-related disease, the most serious of which is mesothelioma cancer. Mesothelioma is a rare type of cancer that occurs in the thin layer of cells lining the body’s internal organs, and there are three recognized types of mesothelioma. Pleural mesothelioma is the most common form of the disease, accounting for roughly 70 percent of cases, and occurs in the lining of the lung. In most cases, mesothelioma symptoms will not appear in an individual exposed to asbestos until many years after the exposure has occurred, and results in patients facing poor prognoses and aggressive treatment options.
Asbestos becomes a hazard when it is airborne. Evaluating homes and items for asbestos is the only way to avoid illness related to asbestos exposure. Earlier this year, 11Live reported how asbestos abatement, testing and handling were not being handled to code, putting Georgia citizens at risk. Learning about where asbestos can be found, what to do if the carcinogen poses a threat to their environment and how to ensure all testing and remediation is done to code is an important step in avoiding exposure.
When faced with asbestos or possible asbestos-containing materials, hiring a licensed professional to properly test and abate any of these materials and following guidelines from the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is a good place to start. The EPA lists a few do’s and don’ts for homeowners that have discovered asbestos, but these tips also apply to those who own commercial spaces, facility managers and all those responsible for maintaining built environments.
The demand for environmental home assessments is growing. Southface has advocated the importance of healthy building for years and continues to position itself at the forefront of this movement by promoting sustainable homes, workplaces and communities through education, research, advocacy and technical assistance. Southface staff participated as subject matter experts to develop a new micro-credential within the Building Performance Institute (BPI) certification system, the Healthy Home Evaluator (HHE). This designation recognizes the value of having existing home energy professionals assess both the energy efficiency aspects and environmental health and safety hazards in a home, and then provides a prioritized list of recommendations to address those hazards.
For more information about the HHE, please visit www.southface.org/education/our-courses/healthy-home-evaluator and head to www.mesothelioma.com for facts about mesothelioma and asbestos.