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R&F Construction OfficialBlog & News

Understanding the Health Risks of Asbestos

Posted On: Mar 17, 2014

Asbestos is widely recognized as a harmful substance that has been linked to certain cancers and upper respiratory problems from long term exposure. While asbestos is not longer used as a building insulation and construction material in modern construction, many older constructions still retain asbestos. The Environmental Protection Agency has identified it as a known carcinogen and prohibits its use in new constructions. As such, most products do not contain asbestos and in industrial uses, asbestos has been phased out of use since the 1970’s and 80’s.

Asbestos was commonly used in dozens of building materials–not exclusively in sound and fireproofing insulation. Asbestos has been included in: drywall joint compound, vinyl floor tile and sheet flooring, cement board, stucco, and roofing materials. Because of this widespread use, it is important to be aware of the potential health risks to asbestos exposure. Here are some things you should know.

Exposure Risks

The biggest risk of exposure to asbestos is through the disruption of materials that contain asbestos. When this happens, asbestos particles become airborne and begin to present a health threat. This can also occur as a result of deterioration, such as in an old building containing asbestos laden materials. Construction workers, custodial staff, and asbestos remediation workers are some of the most at risk groups for exposure to asbestos, though asbestos is a naturally occurring substance and likely found in the outdoor air and some water supplies.

The health risks associated with naturally occurring asbestos have not been as extensively analyzed as manufactured asbestos products, though soil and water samples are often studied to determine the levels of naturally occurring asbestos and the potential effects on resident populations.

Carcinogenic Potential

Commercially manufactured asbestos is known to have carcinogenic properties. The health problems from asbestos exposure comes from the inhalation of the fibers. What’s more, the longer the exposure, the higher the risks of becoming ill. People exposed to asbestos fibers on a regular basis over many years are more likely to develop disease as a result of asbestos exposure than those with general environmental exposure. The precise carcinogenic potential of asbestos is thought to arise in the fiber’s ability to damage chromosomes and destroy cell growth common in cancer development.

Typical symptoms of asbestos exposure include: shortness of breath, persistent cough, wheezing, tightness in chest, difficulty swallowing, and decreased appetite. Upper respiratory problems are a common symptom of prolonged asbestos exposure, so consult a doctor if you exhibit any of these things and suspect you may be exposed to asbestos. There are other asbestos related conditions that can develop over long term exposure, so take precautions to halt exposure and seek immediate treatment for any symptoms.