Asbestos fibers are heat- and chemical-resistant, making them a useful heat insulator or flame retardant for various products. It was commonly used in floor and ceiling tiles, plasters, insulations, adhesives, wallboard, roofing materials, fireproofing materials, and cement products. It is also, however, a known carcinogen, and long-term, repeated exposure to asbestos fibers is known to cause chronic respiratory issues and lung diseases such as Asbestosis or Mesothelioma.
Undamaged and contained asbestos does not necessarily pose a problem to human health. During construction projects though, it can be released into the air when performing tasks like the demolition of drywall, and popcorn ceilings, or when replacing roofing materials in older homes. If inhaled, or accidentally swallowed in some cases, it can then enter the bloodstream and cause significant damage to humans. A certified and licensed professional is needed to remove or repair asbestos-containing materials that are damaged or will be disturbed during a home improvement project. Professionals must wear certain types of personal protective equipment (PPE) to protect themselves such as a respirator, a full-body suit/coveralls, and eye protection.
When the World Trade Center (WTC) towers fell, asbestos, as well as other harmful chemicals like polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs), arsenic, and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) combined to create a toxic cocktail that left so many first responders disabled with different types of cancer and other diseases. For example, as part of the Career Firefighter Health Study, investigators found that FDNY firefighters who responded to the WTCs falling had a higher rate of thyroid and prostate cancer compared to firefighters who didn’t respond to the WTC. The rate of prostate cancer was approximately 30% higher among FDNY firefighters, and the rate of thyroid cancer was more than 2-fold higher.
- EPA – Asbestos Overview
- NIOSH – Asbestos Overview
- OSHA – Asbestos Overview
- National Center for Healthy Housing – Potential Chemicals Found in Building Materials