For decades, asbestos was used in nearly all types of construction. It was popular because it was cheap, but it was also an ideal material because it’s resistant to heat, electricity, fire, and chemical corrosion. With all that protection, contractors and manufacturers thought they had the perfect product to use in residential and commercial construction. It wasn’t until people started getting sick that researchers learned the truth.
How it all Started
While asbestos didn’t become popular until the 1940s, the first commercial production of asbestos started in 1879. By 1899, doctors were already seeing adverse health effects. They called it “curious bodies” in the lungs, but there wasn’t enough evidence to link the disease with asbestos.
Manufacturers continued turning out asbestos-based products for both commercial and residential uses until it gradually became a common word. Everyone knew there was asbestos in their homes, but no one knew about the danger.
Everything started to change in 1939 when doctors made the first official connection between cancer and asbestos. That information, however, did little to slow down asbestos production, and manufactures did their best to hide the dangers and deny that anything was wrong. It took until the 1970s for the U.S. government to publicly declare the dangers of asbestos and begin phasing it out of construction. By that time, countless people were sick, and there are still asbestos products around today.
Where is Asbestos Found?
From 1940-1970, the word “asbestos” was interchangeable with insulation. Nearly all commercial and residential insulation was made with asbestos, and it wasn’t a secret. What many people didn’t realize however, was that asbestos was also found in countless other items. There was construction material, but there were also cosmetics, textiles, automobile parts, and even military-grade vehicles and equipment.
Here’s a list of commonly unknown places where asbestos can be found:
- Brake pads
- Hood liners
- Fireman suits
- Cigarette filters
While the FDA and EPA ban the use of asbestos in a few products including flooring felt and corrugated paper, there’s a surprising lack of regulations on using asbestos in other products. Read about what is and isn’t banned here.
Products containing asbestos have been gradually phased out, but even today, asbestos exposure is a major cause of cancer and other serious illnesses. Because it was so widely used, asbestos is found in homes in nearly every part of the country. New construction homes built after 1990 are unlikely to have asbestos, but older homes are almost guaranteed to have at least some kind of asbestos-based building material.
If those homes aren’t updated, the dangerous substance will lurk in the walls undetected. If something happens to send asbestos fibers into the air, it could slowly sicken the entire family. If your home is more than 30 years old and hasn’t been seriously remodeled, there’s a good chance you’re living with asbestos.
Here’s a list of common construction products where asbestos is found in older homes.
- Felt for roofing and flooring
- Ductwork connectors
- Tile and flooring adhesive
- Window caulking and glazing
- Siding material
- Certain types of linoleum
What to do About Asbestos Exposure
If you suspect you’ve been exposed to asbestos by either breathing in the fibers or swallowing it, consult with your doctor. You should also take steps to remove the contaminated product from your home. Asbestos products become dangerous when they’re damaged or worn, and the fibers flake off and contaminate the air. You won’t be able to smell, taste, or see it, so it’s important to have a professional asbestos abatement company test the product. If the test comes back positive for asbestos, the only permanent way to protect your family is to have it removed.
Because of the risk of creating even more exposure, asbestos abatement companies undergo specialized safety training. They know the proper way to remove the product, whether it be insulation, ductwork, or anything else, and they’re also obligated to responsibly dispose of the material. You’ll be able to breathe easier (literally) once you know your home is asbestos-free.