Asbestos is a dangerous group of minerals that was banned in the United States in the 1980s after research confirmed its carcinogenic properties. This information came too late, however, to prevent millions of homes and businesses from being built using materials that contain asbestos. Today, these materials may need to be removed to protect the public from the risk of asbestos exposure. Safely removing and disposing of asbestos is critical to prevent those involved from developing asbestos-related diseases.
What Is Asbestos?
Asbestos is a group of six naturally occurring silicate minerals. They are microscopic – too small to see with the naked eye. Asbestos was popular for use in the manufacture of many different products, consumer goods and building materials in the 1800s and 1900s. Asbestos was utilized for its properties of being fire-resistant, durable, corrosion-resistant, affordable and easy to obtain. The most commonly used type of asbestos is chrysotile. Unfortunately, this is also the most dangerous.
What Are the Dangers Associated With Asbestos?
Asbestos fibers and particles can be inhaled or ingested by those who are exposed to this mineral. When they enter a victim’s body, asbestos fibers can get stuck in the inner tissues. A common example is the mesothelium, or the thin protective membrane that surrounds many internal organs. Once lodged there, the asbestos particles can cause tissue irritation and inflammation.
Over a long period of time, asbestos can cause scar tissue. This tissue can develop cancerous tumors if the asbestos irritation changes the DNA cells. Cancer of the mesothelium is known as mesothelioma. This is an aggressive form of cancer that is terminal when malignant. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, an average of 3,127 new cases of mesothelioma were diagnosed per year from 1999 to 2018.
The latency period, or the amount of time between an individual’s exposure to asbestos and the development of mesothelioma, is an average of 20-60+ years. In addition to mesothelioma, exposure to asbestos can cause a range of other illnesses, including asbestosis, lung cancer, other types of cancer, pleural plaques and thickening, and pleural effusion. These are chronic health problems that can cause trouble breathing, fatigue, a persistent cough and other symptoms.
Common Places Where Asbestos Is Found
There is no safe level of exposure to asbestos. According to the National Cancer Institute, coming into contact with asbestos just once could potentially cause health problems. However, mesothelioma and other diseases are most common among people who are regularly exposed to asbestos, such as those who live in contaminated homes, manufacture asbestos-containing materials or work in high-risk occupations.
Products containing more than 1 percent of asbestos are currently prohibited in the United States. Products and materials that were created prior to the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA’s) ban in 1989, however, may still exist in many buildings and locations today. Any home that was built before this time could contain asbestos. The same is true of businesses, warehouses and factories. Other locations that commonly contain asbestos are shipyards, power plants, manufacturing facilities and military bases.
Products That Contain Asbestos
Determining if a place where you live or work has asbestos starts with identifying products that often contain this dangerous substance. Manufacturers used asbestos as an additive in many different types of products – especially items that would benefit from fireproofing.
If the following products or materials are present in your home or workplace, they may contain asbestos:
- Floor tiles
- Ceiling tiles
- Cement and mortar
- Adhesives and glues
- Joint compounds
- Ducts and pipes
- Textured paints and sprays
- Electrical panels
- HVAC equipment
The popularity of asbestos reached a peak between 1930 and 1970. Items that were manufactured within this timeframe are more likely to be contaminated with asbestos than others.
Identifying Asbestos in Your Home or Business
Not all older homes, buildings and products contain asbestos. Identifying asbestos-containing items and materials that need removal takes assistance from a licensed asbestos professional. Visual inspections are not good enough, as asbestos is not easily visible. Instead, a professional will need to take a sample of the material and send it to a laboratory for testing.
Asbestos materials should only be handled by trained and licensed professionals with the appropriate certifications. Asbestos management, removal and abatement professionals are trained to follow state and federal asbestos laws. When testing for the presence of asbestos, test samples are carefully collected and sealed in baggies to prevent any asbestos dust from becoming airborne.
You should not touch an item that potentially contains asbestos until an inspector can run tests. If a lab technician determines that the material contains more than 1 percent asbestos, the removal contractor will suggest what steps to take next. To avoid a conflict of interest, if the inspector recommends removal, the home or business owner should hire a separate removal contractor for the job.
What Happens if You Don’t Remove Asbestos?
It may be best to leave asbestos-containing materials alone in some circumstances. Asbestos typically does not pose a health risk if it is not in a state that can be inhaled or ingested, such as in the form of dust. If asbestos is contained safely within a product, and that product is not being touched or disturbed, it may not be necessary to remove the item or material from the premises. However, if renovations or building demolition occurs, the project will need to be predicated by professional asbestos removal.
How to Safely Remove Asbestos
If you do need to remove materials that contain asbestos from a home or business, hire professionals to do so for you. Only licensed asbestos abatement professionals should handle, remove and dispose of asbestos. Do-it-yourself asbestos removal is extremely dangerous and can result in life-threatening health conditions. Even just a few asbestos fibers have the potential to eventually cause a serious medical problem.
Here are the basic steps involved in the professional asbestos removal process:
- The professional will recommend encapsulation or abatement. Encapsulation means that the asbestos materials are coated with a sealant rather than removed.
- If the damage is too severe and removal is necessary, the process will begin with sealing off the work area using plastic sheeting.
- HVAC systems will be turned off and vents will be sealed to prevent asbestos fibers from circulating throughout the building.
- The abatement professional will use wet cleanup tools and HEPA filter vacuums to clean the affected area.
- Any asbestos-containing materials that are removed will be placed inside an airtight container and properly disposed of by the professional.
Throughout these processes, the asbestos contractor will use the proper protective gear and equipment to prevent exposure. This typically includes a full face mask respirator and coveralls. Once the job is completed, the professional will change his or her clothes and shower in a clean room away from the work area to prevent secondhand exposure.
Do You Have to Hire a Professional?
You may be tempted to save money by removing and disposing of asbestos-containing materials yourself. Start by checking the asbestos laws in your state and city. Some places prohibit homeowners from removing asbestos themselves. Others permit the removal of asbestos materials from the interior of a home but not the exterior. It is never recommended to remove asbestos yourself unless you are experienced in the correct techniques.
If you do choose to remove asbestos yourself, you will need to invest in the correct gear. You must take all safety precautions seriously. Follow the steps and procedures outlined by the EPA for properly containing, removing and disposing of asbestos. This includes carefully wetting any friable asbestos products in your home to prevent the release of airborne fibers. Friable asbestos is any material that contains asbestos that can be crushed, crumbled or turned into powder.
If you generate any asbestos waste during your project, you must wet the material and double-bag it in six-millimeter plastic bags. Then, these bags must be enclosed in a leak-tight container with a lid that is properly labeled. Finally, these containers must be disposed of in a landfill designated for asbestos waste. Throughout this process, you will need to wear a respirator and other protective gear to prevent harmful exposure to asbestos.
Best Practices of Working With Asbestos
If you are around asbestos at home or in the workplace, follow these best practices to keep yourself and others as safe as possible:
- DO leave asbestos material that is in good condition alone. It is not always necessary – and can be more dangerous – to remove asbestos.
- DON’T leave asbestos material that is damaged alone. Damaged materials put you at risk of asbestos exposure and need to be contained or removed.
- DO check material regularly for damage if you believe it may contain asbestos. Do not touch the material, but look for physical signs of wear and tear.
- DON’T attempt to remove asbestos yourself if you do not have training or experience with this task. You could put yourself and others in the area at risk
- DO hire someone who is licensed to remove asbestos for the job. This is the safest and most effective way to manage the presence of asbestos.
When in doubt, bring in professional asbestos contractors to keep yourself, your employees or your family safe from exposure to asbestos during a removal project.
Where to Dispose of Asbestos
Once asbestos abatement or removal is complete, the final step is the proper disposal of asbestos-containing materials. You cannot just throw away these materials in a trash can. This is against the law. Instead, you must obey your state’s protocols for correctly disposing of hazardous asbestos waste. This is typically done at a designated asbestos disposal site.
If you are disposing of asbestos materials yourself, research where an official disposal site is near you. You can call your state’s EPA office to hear a list of approved landfill sites for asbestos waste. You will need to wet and encase the materials in plastic before transporting them to the designated site. At the site, the packaged asbestos is buried to prevent it from entering the air or atmosphere.
Modern technology has made it possible to recycle asbestos products and turn them into non-toxic materials. However, this process is expensive. It involves milling asbestos at a high speed or using microwave thermal treatments to heat it up. This can create nonhazardous materials such as glass or porcelain. Researchers are still developing methods for safely and effectively recycling materials that contain asbestos.
Penalties for the Illegal Dumping of Asbestos Products
Incorrectly disposing of asbestos-containing products can have serious consequences. State lawmakers must make the penalties severe to protect the public from this significant health hazard. Although the laws in each state differ, the penalties for improper asbestos disposal often include a hefty fine, months in jail or prison, and probation.
Make things easier on yourself by hiring a professional to remove and dispose of asbestos correctly on your behalf. If you believe you have witnessed improper asbestos disposal, you can notify the EPA by calling 1-800-368-5888. You can also tell the Occupational Safety and Health Administration if improper disposal occurred in your workplace.
Your Legal Options After Asbestos Exposure
If you were exposed to asbestos because someone else failed to safely contain, remove or dispose of asbestos-containing materials, that person or party may be financially responsible for your losses. If you were diagnosed with an illness such as mesothelioma after being exposed to asbestos during its incorrect removal, you may have grounds to file a claim or lawsuit. It is up to you or your attorney to prove negligence during this type of case.
Negligence consists of four elements:
- Duty of care owed: the defendant had a responsibility to act with reasonable care.
- Duty of care breached: the defendant committed an act or omission that violated the duty of care.
- Causation: the defendant’s breach of the duty of care is the main cause of your illness.
- Damages: you suffered compensable losses because of your illness.
You or your lawyer must establish these elements as more likely to be true than not true for a successful personal injury or wrongful death lawsuit. If you qualify for workers’ compensation, however, you will not need to prove negligence. An attorney can review all of your potential legal options with you so that you can choose the right way forward.
Contact an Asbestos Attorney Today
If you believe you are eligible for compensation because someone failed to safely remove and dispose of asbestos, contact Bailey & Glasser, LLP to discuss a potential injury claim with an attorney. Call (866) 871-7971 or contact us online to speak to an intake specialist today. We are passionate about pursuing justice for victims of asbestos exposure.