Is There Asbestos in Everyday Products We Use?
Asbestos is a naturally occurring group of minerals used to fireproof and strengthen metals, fabrics, rubbers, and more. Previously, evidence linked exposure to the fibrous material (usually at home or in the workplace) to long-term diseases and certain cancers. Unfortunately, you can still find asbestos in everyday products we use now (like cosmetics, talc-based powders and perfumes, appliances, and automotive parts).
During the Industrial Revolution, manufacturers started using asbestos. The chemical refining, construction, automotive, and mining industries handled thousands of tons of the material every year in the U.S. Subsequently, countless, assorted products like candle wicks, floor tile adhesive, and HVAC duct wrap contained dangerous levels of the carcinogen.
China, India, and Mexico continue to manufacture products with asbestos. Sometimes, imported products from asbestos-using countries bound for the U.S. contain the toxin.
In the 1970s, the U.S. started to regulate asbestos production and which products could be made with the toxic mineral. However, though some laws have curbed its use, the federal government didn’t completely ban asbestos. Moreover, imported products with asbestos continue to threaten public health. For instance, imported children’s toys including play jewelry, makeup kits, and crayons have been recalled due to dangerous levels of asbestos contamination.
Preexisting uses, also known as “legacy” uses of asbestos, are still legal under federal law. Subsequently, homes and buildings made with asbestos in the siding or plumbing aren’t required to remove it (unless state mandates require otherwise). Usually, asbestos-containing material (ACM) isn’t hazardous in everyday situations. Yet, the materials tend to deteriorate over time and become dangerous.
Friable ACM – products that are likely to release tiny, toxic fibers into the air – is dangerous at any level of exposure. Today, many states restrict how construction companies and home renovators handle these types of materials. Several asbestos-containing materials protect workers and homeowners from toxic exposure and many states’ laws regulate ACM in addition to water and air testing in potentially contaminated areas.
Identifying Asbestos Products
Different types of the mineral come in colors such as white (chrysotile), brown (amosite), and blue (crocidolite). About 95 percent of all asbestos products were made with chrysotile. Normally, you can’t tell a product includes asbestos just by looking at it, and it doesn’t have an odor or taste. Furthermore, determining if a product has asbestos in it puts you at risk of exposure to asbestos fibers too small for the human eye to see.
Types of asbestos-containing products include:
- Brake linings and pads
- Ceiling and floor tiles
- Cement pipes and sheets
- Clutch facings
- Fireproofing textiles
- Flooring and carpet adhesive
- Insulating papers and duct wrap
- Ironing board covers
- Siding and roofing
- Spray-on, textured coatings and paints
- Thermal and electrical insulation
Think you’ve worked or lived somewhere with high asbestos risk? Request a case evaluation to assess your chances for exposure.
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Where Is Asbestos Found in the Home?
Often, homes and buildings constructed before the 1990s contain asbestos-containing materials somewhere. In many houses, previous owners took steps to protect their families from exposure. Generally, remediation techniques include processes like asbestos tile encapsulation, drywall enclosure, or pipe sealing. Encapsulation techniques reduce the risk of exposure for a time. Yet, the presence of asbestos could become a danger as products age or are damaged by normal wear and tear.
Houses built before the mid-1980s are the most likely to have asbestos and homes built in the mid-1980s until the early 1990s have a smaller but still possible chance. Homes built after this time could still contain asbestos if builders used asbestos-containing material in any part of the construction.
Check these high-risk areas of your home for possible ACM.
- Artificial fireplace logs, embers, and ashes
- Ceiling insulation products
- Corrugated cement roofing
- Drywall and plaster
- Eave linings
- Fireplace pipes and bricks
- Hot water pipes
- Insulation in stoves
- Older domestic heaters
- Vinyl floor tiles or coverings
- Textured paints and popcorn ceilings
If you find evidence of potential contamination, do not disturb the materials. Instead, refer to the Environmental Protection Agency’s guidelines on What to Do If You Have Asbestos in Your Home.
Contamination in the Workplace
Largely, the risk of handling asbestos in products we use every day is low. While U.S. asbestos bans don’t include total prohibition, many manufacturers reduced the use of the mineral over time anyway. In the 1970s and 80s, nearly all asbestos companies faced enormous public backlash and a tidal wave of lawsuits over work-related illnesses linked to asbestos exposure. Eventually, some companies (like W.R. Grace and Johns-Manville) declared bankruptcy to cover settlement claims in cases of negligence.
Nonetheless, the most common source of asbestos exposure in the U.S. today is still in the workplace. The risk of developing mesothelioma cancer grows with the length and amount of asbestos exposure. Tradespeople who handle asbestos-containing material daily have the highest risk for asbestos-related diseases like mesothelioma and lung cancers.
Workers most likely to encounter asbestos (and inhale its microscopic fibers) include:
- Automotive mechanics (especially brake mechanics)
- Building maintenance workers
- Construction workers
- Demolition crew
- External cladding and siding installers
- Farmers and farmhands
- Flooring renovators and tilers
- Home repairmen
- HVAC workers
- Kitchen and bathroom installers
- Landfill operators
- Sanitation techs
- Solar panel installers
- Telecommunications technicians
Effects of Exposure
Finding asbestos in products you use every day can be shocking and may cause you to worry about your long-term health. Some people believe they have a serious cough after breathing in asbestos dust, for instance. Yet, exposure does not cause any immediate symptoms – other particles in dust may account for such symptoms.
Normally, the microscopic fibers move far into the respiratory system once inhaled. In other cases, swallowing asbestos fibers sends them deep into the digestive system. In the body, the carcinogen damages cells and occasionally forms a hard plaque over tissues.
Long-term health effects of asbestos exposure include:
- Colon cancer
- Lung cancer
- Pericardial mesothelioma
- Peritoneal mesothelioma
- Pleural mesothelioma
- Pleural plaques
- Stomach cancer
- Testicular mesothelioma
- Throat cancer
Being diagnosed with an asbestos-related disease entitles most people to seek legal compensation. Settlements and trust fund claims can reimburse individuals’ (and their families’) medical bills and the cost of lost wages.