Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Guest Post - Brian Turner

Whoa, it's been a long time since i've posted!  But what that means is there has been some reno progress which i will be posting soon enough.  Before i update you on what's been going on at the High Park Eddy household, i have a guest post from Brian Turner, a healthcare advocate and blogger with the Mesothelioma Cancer Alliance, who shares some important things to keep in mind for those of us working on old houses.

Home Renovations and the Asbestos Threat

Asbestos has been getting a lot of media attention lately, due to the increasing number of mesothelioma cases in the United States.  Mesothelioma is an uncommon but life-threatening cancer that results primarily from asbestos exposure. However, it can remain dormant for decades after exposure. At the time of diagnosis, it is usually too late for aggressive cancer treatments.

Some segments of the population are more susceptible than others to develop mesothelioma. Military veterans, factory workers, automobile mechanics, construction workers and demolition crews are high-risk groups for asbestos exposure. However, a new round of mesothelioma cases is appearing in the United States. These new cases involve American homeowners and do-it-yourself carpenters.

Asbestos in Home Renovations

Home renovations are a popular alternative to purchasing a new home, especially in an unstable economy. Many Americans are starting new projects to renovate or expand their homes. Many toxins pose health hazards to homeowners: lead, mercury, formaldehyde, asbestos and more. The asbestos threat is greatest in older homes, from historic buildings to contemporary structures built in the latter twentieth century.  

Even if asbestos is present in a home, it is usually not a serious problem. Solid, intact asbestos materials are generally safe. The danger occurs as asbestos deteriorates over time, or if it is damaged during a home renovation project. Damaged or disturbed asbestos materials release toxic particles into the air, and this is when it becomes a health hazard.

Common Asbestos Hazards

Asbestos is a tough and flexible mineral substance that is resistant to fire and heat. It was a popular additive in many industrial products throughout the twentieth century. Many building materials and supplies contained asbestos for reasons of safety, flexibility and economy. When the toxic qualities of asbestos became known, the government banned its use in American industry.

Many homes that were built before 1977, however, still contain asbestos materials. Do-it-yourself home renovators may not know which building materials contain asbestos unless they were labeled. Professional asbestos consultants and contractors can identify asbestos through sampling and analyses.

Some roofing and siding shingles are made with asbestos, and some flooring tiles also contain the substance. Asbestos was used as insulation in many old homes, especially those that were built between 1930 and 1950. The material was also used in paper, wallboards, cement sheets, paints, patching compounds, pipe coatings, gaskets and other supplies.

Preventing Asbestos Exposure

Prolonged exposure to asbestos can cause many diseases in addition to mesothelioma. Lung cancer, asbestosis, pleurisy and other respiratory problems are possible outcomes of asbestos exposure. The risk of serious illness increases with the number of fibers inhaled into the lungs.

Most products today do not contain asbestos, so the risk of exposure is slim in newer homes. If homeowners discover asbestos during a renovation of an old home, they should leave it alone if it is not damaged. If it shows signs of wear, deterioration or water damage, homeowners should contact an asbestos abatement professional.

Repairs to asbestos materials should be done with extreme caution and regard for safety. Encapsulation and enclosure prevents asbestos fibers from entering the air and threatening health. Asbestos repairs are typically less expensive than removal, but only experienced renovators or qualified professionals should tackle this type of work.

American homeowners can obtain more information about asbestos exposure and its health risks from the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC), the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the American Lung Association (ALA).