Last summer, workers and residents of New York City woke to news of a steam pipe explosion in the Flatiron District on July 19. Dozens of residential and commercial buildings were forced to evacuate, and asbestos-containing debris released during the explosion raised concern.
Fortunately, The New York Times reported that no one was seriously hurt in the incident or its immediate aftermath. However, the long-term impacts of this event are yet to be seen. Those who were in the area on July 19 should be aware of the lasting negative effects associated with asbestos exposure. The toxin’s confirmed presence in the steam line poses a significant health threat for local residents, first responders, clean-up crews and employees, and could be the cause of cancer down the line.
Some of the most overlooked parts of home renovation and decor are the possible exposure to toxins and the impact they may have on health later on.
Asbestos: A Brief History
Naturally occurring in six different forms, including chrysotile, amosite, crocidolite, anthophyllite, tremolite, and actinolite, asbestos belongs to a family of minerals called “asbestiform.” Chrysotile, otherwise known as “white asbestos,” is the most common form of the mineral and accounts for the majority of use in the United States.
Asbestos is present in many older structures, ranging from buildings and pipes to homes and schools. Its prevalence in construction through much of the 20th century was a result of its “miracle-like” properties, including its resistance to fire and heat. Unfortunately, occupations like firefighting, electrical work, and construction put workers at an increased risk of exposure due to the toxin’s existence in these structures. Although its use in products decreased significantly by the 1980s, up to 1 percent of a product is still allowed to contain asbestos.
Mesothelioma, Asbestosis and Lung Cancer
Asbestos can lead to a number of life-threatening cancers. The three most common forms that develop as a result of exposure to the fiber include mesothelioma, asbestosis and lung cancer. Although lung cancer is linked to a variety of causes, including smoking and radon exposure, asbestos is the only known cause of both mesothelioma and asbestosis.
The average latency period for both of these cancers ranges from 10 to 50 years, which is a major cause for concern considering the extremely poor prognosis. Mesothelioma, in particular, has an average life expectancy of 6 to 12 months.
What Does This Mean for You?
With DIY and home renovation projects on the rise, it's important for homeowners, including landlords, to be aware of possible dangers before jumping into a project. Some common places asbestos can be found in the home include:
Asbestos is not harmful if left undisturbed, but exposure is imminent once the carcinogen is broken or displaced. For this reason, it is extremely important to be aware of the possibility of the presence of asbestos when taking on a DIY or home renovation project. Factors including the age of your home and if/when your home was last checked for toxins are vital considerations to bear in mind prior to construction or demolition.
The next time you’re ready to start a home renovation project, be sure to keep these potential risk factors in mind. If there is any concern that you or someone you know has been exposed, consider consulting a doctor immediately. For more information on the health risks associated with asbestos exposure, visit the Mesothelioma + Asbestos Awareness Center.