Asbestos: A Reminder to Take its Consequences Seriously
The first week of April was recognized as Global Asbestos Awareness Week (GAAW) and was dedicated to sharing information about the dangers of asbestos. Asbestos is a known human carcinogen that construction workers are all too familiar with. Unfortunately, while many know what asbestos is, the proper safety precautions aren’t always followed when dealing with this mineral. We must ensure that construction personnel understand the consequences this toxin can create for our well-being and how to mitigate any risk involved in handling it.
The Dangers of Asbestos
Asbestos is a mineral that has been used for years in different capacities. Coined as a “miracle mineral,” its distinctive heat-resisting and sound-absorbing qualities made it second to none in the manufacturing industry. Due to this, it was included in building materials such as ceiling tiles, insulation and vinyl flooring. Decades of usage have left it lingering in homes and buildings around the globe where it has begun deteriorating and creating issues.
When asbestos begins to break apart, microscopic fibers become airborne. These fibers can enter the body through inhalation or ingestion, where they become embedded in our internal organs. This can lead to asbestos-related diseases later in life, most notably, mesothelioma cancer. Mesothelioma primarily affects the lining of the lungs, heart and stomach. This cancer has a very bleak prognosis, with most people living less than two years after diagnosis.
Asbestos in Construction
Asbestos-containing materials (ACMs) are commonly found in homes built between the 1920s to 1980s. This puts construction workers at heightened risk when renovating or demolishing older homes. Unfortunately, safety protocols are sometimes ignored. Lack of knowledge about this carcinogen puts workers at an increased risk for exposure leading to a cycle of negligence.
If you are a construction worker and are renovating or demolishing an older home or building, be mindful of the age of the structure before beginning the project. If you believe the structure is harboring ACMs, ask to have the materials tested for asbestos. This will give definitive results as to whether or not the materials are toxic and will bring peace of mind knowing that you can have them abated to create a safe environment.
As always, you should regularly be wearing protective equipment when performing these duties. HEPA-filter face masks and clothing that can be bagged and disposed of after the job can limit exposure to asbestos. By removing the potentially contaminated clothing, this will ensure you are not bringing asbestos fibers home with you when the day is over.
Construction workers contribute a large percentage to the nearly 3,000 new mesothelioma diagnoses in the U.S. each year. Fortunately, the Occupational Health & Safety Administration (OSHA) and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) have implemented regulations to help protect construction workers from exposure. Some of these regulations are as follows:
- Employers must offer proper hazard communication.
- Medical monitoring must be provided for those exposed to asbestos at levels or above the permissible exposure limit (PEL).
- Designated decontamination and lunch areas are required by law.
- Employers must keep record of potential exposures and employee medical monitoring.
Colin Ruggiero dedicates his time to informing others about mesothelioma cancer and preventative measures that can be taken to avoid exposure to asbestos.