Asbestos Testing in Your Home
You may not have heard of the cancer that affects about 3,000 Americans each year, known as mesothelioma. But you’ve probably heard about the carcinogen responsible for the disease: asbestos, and it could be lurking in your everyday life! That’s why asbestos testing in your home is so important.
Asbestos is a mineral found naturally in some mining deposits (like talc). For decades, it was manufactured into products for fireproofing, soundproofing, and/or chemical corrosion resistance. At one point, its use was so popular that nearly all buildings, houses, cars, and boats were built with the material. Moreover, thousands of products (from crayons to cosmetic powders) were made or contaminated with asbestos and there is no safe level of asbestos exposure.
As a result, more than 40,000 people lose their life to asbestos-related diseases each year. Typically, people who work in industries that handle large amounts of friable asbestos (i.e., potentially airborne dust) have the highest risk of developing asbestos-caused cancers (such as construction workers). However, asbestos is also a risk in many homes today and testing these areas of your home is the only way to know the extent of the danger.
What Are the Risks for Mesothelioma?
Once asbestos is inhaled into the body, it is lodged there for life. If you have disturbed asbestos in your home, even years ago, you are at risk for mesothelioma. Although mesothelioma is just one of the potential risks of asbestos exposure, it is an aggressive and fast-spreading form of cancer. Yet, it usually takes years before symptoms of exposure show up (like chest pain and swelling).
The long latency period between exposure and the first signs of cancer makes it harder diagnose the cause of symptoms. As such, many doctors will consider specific risk factors during your examination.
Risks for mesothelioma cancer include:
- Age: Most mesothelioma diagnoses occur among seniors. Currently, the average age of diagnosis is 72 years old.
- Family history: Some people have a higher risk of developing mesothelioma due to inherited family genetics.
- History of exposure: Exposure to asbestos at work, in your home, or from someone carrying asbestos dust on hair, skin, or clothes.
- Length and amount of exposure: Though there is no safe level of exposure, longer periods of heavy exposure increase the risk of asbestos-related cancer.
- Smoking habits: Smoking cigarettes significantly increases cancer risk when combined with asbestos exposure.
- Unsafe exposure: Inhaling asbestos fibers (even tiny ones too small to see) is the biggest risk factor for mesothelioma. Most people with mesothelioma suffered workplace exposure due to corporate negligence. Others were exposed to asbestos dust at home from damaged building materials (like floor tiles).
Where Can You Find Asbestos in a House?
In the U.S., homes built before the 1980s have the highest risk of asbestos contamination. Yet, because the federal government never fully banned asbestos, homes built after that time may contain toxic products.
According to the Consumer Product Safety Commission, asbestos-containing materials aren’t dangerous when they’re still in good condition. Good condition means that the item isn’t damaged or deteriorating. Normal, physical wear on contaminated shingles, water damage to siding, and frayed duct wrap tape are examples of possible sources of toxic exposure.
Examples of where you may find asbestos and want to test for it in your home include:
- Artificial ashes and embers
- Asbestos paper and duct wrap
- Boilers, furnace ducts, and steam pipes
- Cement roofing, shingles, and siding
- Cement sheets and millboard
- Patching and joint compounds
- Stove door gaskets
- Textured paints and popcorn ceiling
- Vinyl floor tiles and flooring adhesive
Unless labeled otherwise, there is no way to tell something has asbestos just by looking at it. Hiring a professional, state-certified asbestos testing company to take samples of your home is the only way to confirm contamination.
However, taking samples can be incredibly dangerous and could expose you to tiny cancer-causing particles. The EPA recommends following all Homeowner Do’s and Don’ts before making any renovations.
Symptoms of Asbestos Exposure
When you breathe in asbestos-contaminated dust, you may not feel anything abnormal. Asbestos exposure doesn’t cause any immediate symptoms. The fibers are often so small, the human eye can’t see them. Subsequently, asbestos can travel deep into the body, past the body’s defenses for fighting invaders. Too, the fibers cannot be removed from the body once they’re stuck to tissues.
Over time, asbestos can damage organs and make it harder for them to function. Depending on the location of the fibers inside your body, you may notice symptoms like:
- A cough that lasts at least 8 weeks or a cough that keeps coming back
- Chest pain
- Shortness of breath or feeling like you can’t take a full breath
- Swelling in the face, arms, or abdomen
- Trouble swallowing food or drink
Doctors recommend anyone with a high risk of mesothelioma (such as those who worked with the material) undergo regular cancer screenings. Imaging tests, physical exams, and lung function tests help catch diseases before they spread throughout the body.
However, anyone with symptoms of the disease (like the ones listed above) should make an appointment for cancer testing as soon as possible.