Tuesday, February 10, 2009
Special Report: What New Yorkers Need to Know About Asbestos and Renovations
Today, the cityhammer blog brings you a special report about renovating a home and dealing with the potential problems caused by asbestos. We interviewed Joe Lederman of the Mesothelioma Cancer Center and were amazed at how much information is out there that many New York homeowners are probably not aware of.
CH: How does a one know what the status or history of asbestos could be when they move into a new home?
JL: Asbestos is a natural fibrous mineral used throughout the 20th century in thousands of industrial and building applications. Making sure whether or not asbestos-materials are present is ideally the first step. Unfortunately, asbestos cannot be seen with the naked eye. The home is not only a financial asset, but a place to live and raise your family. If a real estate agent is assisting you in finding the right home, you should ask your agent to verify if the property has any past history with asbestos or other health damaging materials. If a home was built prior to 1980, there is still the likelihood of containing asbestos. Material in good condition will generally not pose any health risks. Therefore, it is highly recommended that home owners leave any suspected materials un-disturbed, as this can cause its toxic fibers to become airborne.
Asbestos exposure can lead to the development of serious health ailments such as asbestosis and mesothelioma. These forms of asbestos lung cancers take the lives of thousands each year so taking steps to ensure you and your family’s safety is of the utmost importance.
CH: What do you recommend a homeowner do before embarking on a structural renovation that could lead to exposure?
JL: Prior to embarking on a renovation project, home owners should hire a certified inspector to determine if any harmful materials are present and what the best course of action should be. Your family’s protection comes with knowing what you are dealing with and handling it in a responsible manner. States also require a property owner to file a written notice at least ten days before remodeling or demolition has begun. If there is asbestos in the property, it should be removed by an abatement contractor who is trained in handling dangerous materials. The removal and disposal of asbestos is a finite process that requires professional care and protective equipment. Stating how workers will protect themselves and how the prevention of the release of asbestos into the community will not happen may also need to be stated.
CH: Do you have any statistics or approximations for how many homes in the US may still have asbestos in their makeup?
JL: It is difficult to estimate the true amount of homes that may still have asbestos-containing materials. In 1988, the Environmental Protection Agency found asbestos in at least 700,000 public and residential residences across the United States. More than half were estimated to contain damaged asbestos. Due to the widespread use throughout the last century, it is still probable for homes built before 1980 to have asbestos in their makeup.
Asbestos professionals can perform home inspections, take samples of suspected material, assess the condition, and advise on what corrections are needed. Once again, material in good condition need not be sampled unless it is likely to be disturbed. An abatement contractor will repair or remove asbestos materials but is usually the last option chosen.
CH: Which building materials or products that have been historically used in homes are the most dangerous?
JL: Manufacturers of asbestos were aware of its toxic qualities, but continued the shipping of the product anyways, leading to millions of civilians, workers and military personnel being wrongfully exposed. Its qualities as fire resistant and durable made it one of the most sought out building applications in the world.
Asbestos was typically used as insulation, steam pipes or boilers, floor tiles, cement sheets, door gaskets, soundproofing, cement roofing, shingles, siding, automobile brake pads and linings. All of these products could potentially become damaged and release fibers into the air. The most difficult asbestos materials to locate include ceiling tiles, vinyl wall coverings, and popcorn ceilings. If any suspected asbestos is found, leave it un-disturbed until a professional can help determine the next step.
CH: How do the remodeling industry and its professionals protect itself from the possibility from asbestos-related sickness?
JL: Licensed abatement contractors will be familiar with the regulations in protecting you and themselves from exposure to asbestos. They must wear protective equipment such as masks and gloves to avoid any exposure. The area is usually isolated from the rest of the house by shutting down ventilation systems and sealing them. The materials should be removed in as large pieces as possible and places in disposable bags.
There are now many eco-friendly green alternatives to asbestos such as cotton fiber, cellulose and lcynene. Not only will these options provide a safe replacement to asbestos, they can even lower energy costs annually. These options should be considered upon removal of asbestos.
CH: What is the number one thing that people should know about Mesothelioma?
JL: Mesothelioma is a highly aggressive lung ailment which the only known cause is asbestos exposure. It accounts for nearly three percent of cancer diagnoses in the U.S. and has a latency period that can last anywhere from 20 to 50 years. This compounded with many symptoms that appear in less serious conditions make it one of the more difficult illnesses to accurately diagnose. Mesothelioma treatment is limited to a handful of options, but new diagnostic procedures are being tested specifically for detecting diseases such as mesothelioma. Home owners should take all the steps necessary to avoid exposure.
CH: Thanks, Joe.