The landscape of asbestos exposure has shifted over the decades, changing with the places people have been historically exposed. The first wave of asbestos exposure occurred in asbestos mines and the second, the effects of which we are still experiencing, occurred in industry, where workers were exposed to products and manufacturing processes that contained asbestos. The third wave of asbestos exposure, the one lawyers in our firm are looking into today, is a different beast: It can happen right in your home.
The most recent Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) report concerning asbestos exposure in the United States noted the mesothelioma mortality rate decreased from 1999 to 2015 for 45- through 74- year-olds. However, it also noted that the continued exposure by people 55 and younger to asbestos suggests “ongoing occupational and environmental exposures to asbestos fibers…despite regulatory actions by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) aimed at limiting asbestos exposure.”
How is exposure still occurring? The report cites the renovation or demolition of aging buildings as a likely culprit. Younger people can be exposed to asbestos while working on a demolition or renovation site or just being in its proximity because just trace amounts of asbestos can cause health issues, including mesothelioma, a deadly cancer that affects the protective lining of internal organs.
The theory has ample evidence to support – at the very least – that it is plausible. Many of our nation’s buildings were built with asbestos insulation, flooring tiles, pipes, etc. For example, it was estimated in the 1980s – the last year a federal asbestos risk assessment was completed for schools – 35,000 contained asbestos, according to Asbestos Nation. The EPA estimated 15 million students and 1.4 million teachers were at risk of asbestos exposure then. Those buildings have undoubtedly since undergone numerous repairs or have been demolished, potentially releasing asbestos into the air, where it becomes a health threat to both demolition workers or those in the schools. This helps explain why teachers are twice as likely to die from mesothelioma than average Americans, and construction workers face some of the highest odds of contracting the preventable disease.
According to the Agency for Toxic Substances & Disease Registry, “Today in the United States, most occupational exposures occur during repair, renovation, removal or maintenance of asbestos-containing products installed years ago.” For homeowners, that reality is particularly frightening due to a rise in do-it-yourself (DIY) renovation and construction.
Federal laws requiring a licensed professional to abate asbestos do not apply to detached, single-family homes, according to the EPA, though state regulations may contain that requirement. Regardless of legality, it is of the utmost importance that projects that could potentially expose asbestos are not considered a DIY opportunity. Though rare, mesothelioma is still occurring at higher rates than expected, likely due to improper abatement procedures that can even affect us in our own homes.
Sources: EPA, CDC, Asbestos Nation, Agency for Toxic Substances & Disease Registry
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