by Linda Reinstein, President/CEO, Asbestos Disease Awareness Organization (ADAO) —
40,000 Americans die every year from asbestos-related lung cancer, mesothelioma and other asbestos-related diseases.
While many people believe asbestos is as archaic as rotary phones, the truth is the threat from this toxic substance is everywhere. The scientific community agrees that there is no safe level of use or exposure to asbestos. Yet shockingly, unlike 60 other countries around the world, U.S. laws do not restrict asbestos imports and allow almost all uses of the deadly substance.
In the past century, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has allowed more than 31 million tons of asbestos to be used in construction trades, automotive, and shipbuilding industries.
While there are certainly numerous toxic asbestos-containing products on the market, the most common place to find this deadly substance is in our homes, schools, and office buildings. Knowing where to look and how to safely remove asbestos is the responsibility of every home and building owner and professional. Most commonly, asbestos can be found in:
- Vinyl flooring
- Duct wrapping on heating and air conditioning systems
- Insulation on hot water pipes and boilers, especially in homes built from 1920 to 1972
- Some roofing, shingles, and siding
- Ceiling and wall insulation in some homes built or remodeled between 1945 and 1978
- Sheetrock taping compounds and some ceiling materials
- Asbestos that has been sprayed on ceilings often has a spongy, “cottage cheese” appearance with irregular soft surfaces.
While a certified asbestos consultant can be hired to determine whether or not asbestos is present and to give advice about how to take care of it safely, it is important that every homeowner and building manager understand the basic risks of asbestos and how to handle it. As our buildings age and asbestos-containing materials deteriorate, the risk of exposure multiplies. To keep everyone safe, we recommend following these 10 best practices:
- Don’t dust, sweep, or vacuum debris that may contain asbestos.
- Don’t saw, sand, scrape, or drill holes in asbestos-containing materials.
- Don’t use abrasive pads or brushes on power strippers to strip wax from asbestos flooring. Never use a power stripper on flooring that may contain asbestos.
- Don’t sand or try to level asbestos flooring or its backing. When asbestos flooring needs replacing, install new floor covering over it, if possible.
- Don’t track material that could contain asbestos through the house. If you cannot avoid walking through the area, have it cleaned with a wet mop. If the material is from a damaged area, or if a large area must be cleaned, call an asbestos professional.
- Leave undamaged asbestos-containing materials alone.
- Keep activities to a minimum in any areas with damaged material that may contain asbestos, and limit children’s access to any materials that may contain asbestos.
- Take every precaution to avoid damaging asbestos-containing material.
- Have abatement and major repairs performed by professionals trained and qualified to handle asbestos. It is also highly recommended that sampling and minor repair work be done by a trained and accredited asbestos professional.
- Contact your local representatives and demand they take action to ban asbestos in America.
The last “do” step, using your voice to influence the policy around asbestos in America, may be the most important step we can take together. For 30 years, we’ve fought an uphill battle against powerful corporate interests who see profit-margins where we see funeral arrangements.
In 1989, the EPA attempted to ban most uses of asbestos, but industry challenged the ban in court and won. Ignoring the science, the 5th Circuit Court ruled in favor of the asbestos industry and overturned the ban. In 2016, the EPA got another chance to take action when a bipartisan bill was signed into law thus giving them the regulatory power to finally ban asbestos.
Attempts to ban asbestos have been halted by the industry’s powerful lobbying for continued imports and use. The EPA has elected to ignore the risk evaluation of legacy asbestos in homes, workplaces, existing infrastructures or schools. This is unfathomable — as the legacy uses of asbestos remain, the 31 million tons that we have used in the past century, continue to put us all at risk. Asbestos fibers are so small you can not see, touch, or smell them, therefore leaving most Americans unable to identify or manage the risks of asbestos.
Your voice is important. Together, we can make a difference in Congress, in our communities, and in our homes. As we say at ADAO, “Hear Asbestos.Think Prevention.” For more information about asbestos prevention and policy, connect with us online. You can follow @Linda_ADAO on Twitter or visit https://www.asbestosdiseaseawareness.org
This article appeared in the February 2019 Digital Edition of Healthy indoors Magazine: https://hi.healthyindoors.com/i/1088111-hi-feb-2019/45
Author bio: Linda Reinstein became a public health advocate after her husband, Alan, was diagnosed with mesothelioma in 2003. One year later, she co-founded the Asbestos Disease Awareness Organization (ADAO) dedicated to eliminating asbestos-caused diseases and protecting asbestos victims’ civil rights through education, advocacy, and community initiatives. Recognized as a prevention and public policy influencer, Reinstein has been a strong voice for educational campaigns and policy in the U.S. and around the world. Serving as ADAO’s President and CEO, she organizes the only annual international educational conference in the U.S. solely dedicated to eliminating asbestos-caused diseases.