Asbestos: A Hidden Killer in Many Homes
You have purchased the home of your dreams, where you plan to park the first car, buy your first kitchen appliances and furniture, raise children and invest in pets. But how sure are you that your home is safe? Has your home been checked for asbestos?
Asbestos is a fiber that emanates from minerals and rocks. It was plentifully used in some countries up to the 1980s. However, when long term exposure to asbestos was linked to lung cancer, many homes and buildings in Europe and in the US were checked by an expert for the presence of the fiber. The removal of asbestos requires a special procedure that can only be done by an expert.
Asbestos VAT/Mastic Removal.mp4
The two types of cancer linked to long term asbestos exposure are 1) Mesothelioma, which affects the abdominal cavity and chest lining, and 2) asbestosis, or scarring of the lungs. To determine the presence of this mineral in your home, an expert must be consulted. If asbestos is present and exposed, special procedures must be followed in its treatment or removal.
Where asbestos is used
Asbestos may be present in some types of cement roof shingles, cement pipes, some varieties of insulation (especially in old, 1970 homes), some categories of stove top pads (especially older ones), wall coverings, acoustic plaster, some patching alloys, ceiling tiles, textured paints, coatings, air-conditioning duct insulation and some types of vinyl flooring, among others.
If the asbestos is safely contained and covered, it is harmless. However, if it is exposed, there is the danger of inhalation. Exposure is particularly likely if the structure is old and damaged.
Old buildings like schools and churches are examples of the possible danger of long term exposure to asbestos. Because of this, the market for products that contain asbestos has gone down in the US and in Europe.
Scoping the Asian market
On October 25, 2013, a meeting was held in Makati city, the Philippine’s financial district, attended by major players from the asbestos industry. The meeting was headed by the Association of Chrysotile Industry of the Philippines (ACIP), according to a statement from Building and Wood Workers International in their website, Bwint.org.
The purpose of the meeting was to promote Chrysotile asbestos as safe for use in construction. In attendance were “key government officials, academics, journalists, politicians and construction industry contractors,” according to Bwint.org.
The meeting was censured by BWI and the Associated Labor Unions (ALU). Gerard Seno, executive vice president of ALU said, “After sustaining a recent series of heavy economic, legal and political losses in Europe, North and South America, this asbestos industry assembly in Manila is a signal that the asbestos sales have shifted and are going to expand their business operations in the Philippines, Thailand, Malaysia, Indonesia, Vietnam and other developing countries in the region.”
Chrysotile asbestos claims to be less dangerous
According to its website, Chrysotile is less dangerous compared to its predecessor, amphibole, which was used in the 70s. It can be used as part of insulation, flooring and appliances. The Chrysotile site notes that studies indicate that asbestos is not harmful if it is covered by solid matter that keeps it from being released in the air.
According to a Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) Order No. 02 released in the year 2000, there are two groups of asbestos. The serpentine group includes chrysolite, which is white asbestos. The amphibole group includes actinolite, crocidolite (blue asbestos) and tremolite, among others. The DENR Order does not say that one group is less dangerous than the other.
Philippine laws regarding asbestos
The DENR Order No. 2 formed the Chemical Control Order for Asbestos. The order included a list of materials where asbestos is permissible provided it is securely covered. These include roof felts (which lie below the roof shingles), asbestos cement roofing, asbestos cement flat sheets, high temperature textiles (eg. blankets, ceramic ropes), and other high density products.
A 2003 article in the Philippine Star further clarified that the Philippine government, through the DENR, will control and regulate the import, manufacture, storage, transportation and disposal of products using asbestos and asbestos waste disposal.
Adios, Dream House?
This may all sound very good. However, what happens when your dream house experiences natural long term deterioration? If the paint cracks and falls, will asbestos be pulled down with it?
Over time, the foundation of your home may move, causing cracks on your marble, cement, hardwood or vinyl floor. Cracks will appear on your walls. The ceiling may leak and you may have plumbing problems.
If you are thinking in the long term, would you consider asbestos a worthy risk? Perhaps that would be fine with you, but there is also the risk of secondhand exposure.
Asbestos on clothing, shoes, or even your body can be inhaled by any outsider you come into contact with. Lung cancer caused by asbestos has a long latency period. It may manifest from 10 to 30 years after long term exposure.
What you can do
Homes that were built in the 1970s are likely to have asbestos. If that sounds like your home, make sure that the asbestos is locked in and unexposed. Look for signs of damage like cracks, water damage, or damage caused by hitting or mishandling the house. Incidents like these may result in the release of asbestos.
Consult a professional if your home has asbestos. He can use a sealant or any stable material to close the asbestos in. If you are planning to build your own home, you can choose all your materials to ensure that your house is asbestos free.
Is your home safe?
Do you know whether there is any asbestos in your home?
If you plan to buy a home, ask the builder if asbestos was used, and on what parts of the house. If you decide to leave the asbestos where it is, maintain your house regularly. Fix any damage as soon as it occurs, don’t let it fester. Also, survey the condition of your house annually. You don’t want to reach a point where you have to remove your whole floor or a piece of your popcorn ceiling falls off.
If you would rather remove the asbestos and you have the budget to do it, hire a professional to do the job. A professional will seal off the house, wear an asbestos safe mask and cover his head, and dispose of his clothes afterwards.
Special water with a chemical will be used to keep the area consistently wet so that the asbestos stays put. Disposal will require the service of a hazardous waste facility.
It’s very expensive. You would probably be better off looking for a healthier dream house.