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Although mining and production of asbestos in the United States came to an end more than a decade ago, the toxic mineral is still legal to use and imported regularly.

In fact, imported products are allowed to contain up to one percent asbestos, even though it has been recognized by the government as a known carcinogen. Hypothetically, even if the U.S. decided to ban asbestos tomorrow, its past use will continue taking a toll on American lives for decades to come.

Starting in the late 1800s, asbestos was used heavily to help manufacture many consumer products, ranging from vehicles and housing to appliances and much more. When left intact, asbestos-containing products pose little threat to human health, but issues occur when products made with asbestos begin to deteriorate or are disturbed. The toxic fibers are microscopic and small enough to go unnoticed when inhaled, substantially heightening the risk of developing mesothelioma cancer or another asbestos-related disease.

Mesothelioma is rare, aggressive, and sometimes may be misdiagnosed as a respiratory infection or the flu, leaving most patients with less than a year to live once an accurate diagnosis has been made. This form of cancer also has an abnormally long latency period. Those diagnosed with the disease typically do not see any symptoms until 15 to 50 years after exposure.

As serious as mesothelioma is, it’s preventable with awareness. Knowing where asbestos could be hiding and what steps to take to protect yourself are key.

How to Find Asbestos in Your Home

It’s fairly common to find asbestos in older homes, and the older the building, the more likely the mineral is present. Buildings erected before 1980 have a high chance of containing asbestos somewhere, whether it’s in the walls, tiles, roofing, siding, piping, ovens, boilers, or even dryers, among other places. Unfortunately, asbestos isn’t easily identifiable with the naked eye as it usually exists within other materials.

Products made with asbestos are not harmful until they are broken up, either through natural deterioration or during a renovation when loose fibers are released into the air. To detect whether asbestos is present, send suspected materials to a certified laboratory for analysis. You can find a certified laboratory by conducting a simple Internet search for labs in your area.

From initial testing to removal, it’s important to have a trained and licensed professional handle any and all asbestos in the home. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) provides detailed information to help you make those decisions and answers most basic homeowner questions.

Buildings erected before 1980 have a high chance of containing asbestos somewhere, whether it’s in the walls, roofing, siding, piping, ovens, boilers, or even dryers, among other places.

When buying an older home, be sure to talk with the inspector and get their thoughts regarding asbestos within the home. If the mineral is believed to be present, it’s up to the discretion of the new homeowner how to proceed. If the items or materials containing asbestos are still intact, it could be safe enough to leave alone for the time being. Despite this, it’s important to keep the issue in check and remove the affected materials sooner rather than later. They will likely deteriorate over time, putting homeowners and their families at risk.

Finding Asbestos During Home Renovations

Renovating older homes requires the most caution. Hiring a professional is always the safest bet and is widely suggested by safety groups and governmental organizations. When starting any major home renovation, preventative measures should always be taken. Before demolition day, invest in protective gear like coveralls, respirator masks, and goggles. Section off the areas under construction and turn off house-wide ventilation systems to prevent the circulation of dust, fumes, and toxins like asbestos.

Keep in mind that older homes aren’t the only grounds for asbestos concern. Imported products are legally allowed to contain one percent or less of asbestos, and some building materials brought into the country today still contain it. When buying new building material, be especially wary of items like packing gaskets and roofing panels. Take the time to research materials before purchasing them to ensure the brand does not use asbestos.

Preventing Asbestos in Your Drinking Water

Asbestos-cement pipes (AC pipes) have been used in water systems throughout the U.S. since the 1950s. As with other asbestos products, AC pipes are safe until they are broken up or reach the end of their usable lifespan, which is about 50 years. Many water pipes installed during the 1950s and 1960s are reaching that point, causing water main breaks across the country and leaving traces of asbestos in tap water.

Old pipes aren’t the only source of asbestos in public water. Natural disasters like wildfires, hurricanes, and tornadoes can cause asbestos exposure and increase the possibility of the dangerous substance entering the drinking water supply.

Many water pipes installed during the 1950s and 1960s are deteriorating, causing water main breaks across the country and leaving traces of asbestos in tap water.

Consuming the toxic mineral is a concern because any amount of exposure can possibly cause an asbestos-related disease. Take any public warnings seriously. If asbestos is found in the community’s drinking water, take precautionary measures and use bottled water until given an “OK” by the local government. To be extra cautious, any reverse osmosis system or water filtration system with a 1 micron or smaller filter will significantly reduce the amount of asbestos present in the water. The following water filters fit this category:

  1. Premium 10-Stage Counterop Filtration System
  2. Berkey Light Water Purification System*
  3. Lifestraw Go Bottle

*Berkey no longer publishes micron ratings due to confusion with International vs. US rating systems. However, their design has not changed and based on previously published ratings, the Berkey system would provide protection in this situation.

The Future of Asbestos

Many countries around the world are actively working toward complete asbestos bans. Canada was once one of the world’s largest producers and exporters of asbestos, but is now working to phase out its use.The Dutch government has also enacted major regulations targeting the mineral and is working toward banning all asbestos roofs by 2024. Local authorities will be enforcing the law by fining those who do not comply. Individuals and companies in the Netherlands may no longer use, store, import or give away asbestos products.

These movements are critical steps towards the prevention of mesothelioma cancer, but until all structures and products made with asbestos are removed, asbestos-related diseases will continue taking lives. Awareness and prevention will remain paramount for decades to come.

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