National Poison Prevention Week: The Cancer-Causing Toxin Found Indoors


by Rosie Rosati, Health Advocate at the Mesothelioma + Asbestos Awareness Center 

Although it has been more than 15 years since the last United States asbestos producer stopped operations, the mineral still poses a risk to public health through old and damaged products found in homes and buildings. Asbestos is a natural mineral known for its substantially strong fibers and was once used in products worldwide. In the U.S., it is estimated that asbestos can still be found in 700,000 commercial buildings, primarily in construction materials.

When asbestos-containing products are moved or damaged, harmful fibers can be released into the air. When people breathe these fibers in, they may eventually develop a chronic disease like lung cancer or possibly even mesothelioma, a cancer affecting fewer than 3,000 people annually in the U.S. Asbestos is the only known cause of this aggressive cancer and its latency period makes it extremely difficult to diagnose early on. Asbestos-related illnesses are almost entirely preventable and with National Poison Prevention Week arriving, we’re spotlighting the factors that impact your risk and how to prevent exposure.

Any Home Built Before The 1980s

Asbestos consumption peaked between 1940-1970 and the building trade was one of the leading manufacturers worldwide. Common toxic products include siding, floor tile, insulation, roofing materials and fireproof coatings. For example, vermiculite insulation is estimated to be present in 35 million homes today, putting countless families at risk. As a homeowner or landlord, you are most likely in charge of making sure the property is safe from exposure. If you are certain your home contains asbestos, never attempt to remove it on your own. Contact a licensed abatement specialist who can safely dispose of the material.

Low Income Households

Research has shown that low-income families who reside in older housing are at a greater risk of being exposed to indoor toxins such as radon, lead and asbestos. Older housing is more likely to be weathered and damaged, which is when the threat of airborne asbestos fibers becomes a health concern. The cost of abatement specialists can be overwhelming and those who are at risk are not always in the position to afford this safe and monitored removal method. In addition, because of the staggering costs, homeowners and landlords may not make this health hazard a priority. Therefore, anyone residing in substandard and older housing is considered to be at higher risk of exposure.

Natural Disasters

Although asbestos has been regulated within consumer products it is still an environmental toxin, meaning there are natural asbestos deposits throughout the world. In the United States, the most high-risk states include California, Florida, Pennsylvania and New York, but natural disasters can carry fibers for miles, potentially exposing the general public. This is why major storms like hurricanes or tornadoes can lead to a public health crisis, because asbestos not only harms our lungs but can also contaminate our food and water sources. Even if you are not residing in old or weathered housing, natural disasters can threaten entire cities, which is why health organizations and advocacy groups are fighting for an official ban.

A Time For Change

Although many people assume asbestos has already been banned globally, the truth is this mineral is still used in about 70 percent of the world today. Fortunately, the passage of the Frank R. Lautenberg Chemical Safety for the 21st Century Act a couple years ago was a major step for our nation, and has led to the EPA’s decision to prioritize asbestos as one of the first ten chemicals for risk evaluation. Although we have a long road ahead of us, we are hopeful that the United States will join the worldwide movement to prohibit asbestos use and eliminate resulting diseases once and for all.

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