The Dangers of Asbestos: Is there a Hidden Toxin in your Home?

by | Updated: June 5th, 2017 | Read time: 3 minutes

Controlling personal health has become much easier in recent years. Restaurants list calorie counts on menus and provide low-fat, gluten-free, and organic options. Brands like Vitacost provide healthy, natural products at reasonable prices. But how do you plan for a health hazard that you can’t see, taste or smell?

Asbestos is a toxin unknowingly found inside many homes and has the potential to cause serious health issues. If left untouched, you might get away with asbestos in the home, but if it’s disturbed during the process of renovation or damaged during a flood or fire, it could prove disastrous.

Woman Facing Wall Being Renovated Wondering if Her Home Contains Asbestos |

April includes Global Asbestos Awareness Week, so to help spread awareness here are some facts you’ll need to know to keep your home and family not only healthy but asbestos-free.

What is asbestos?

Asbestos is a natural mineral used in many industries throughout the 1900s, including construction, automotive, military and manufacturing. Its heat and fire resistant properties made it a top choice for fire-prone materials, so asbestos can be found in many products around the home including tiling, insulation, plaster, boilers and even home products like curtains and crock pots.

How does asbestos affect my health?

Inhaling asbestos fibers can cause serious respiratory health issues, including lung cancer, asbestosis and mesothelioma. Asbestos is the only known cause of mesothelioma, which occurs when inhaled microscopic fibers become lodged in the lung tissue. The lodged fibers cause inflammation and scarring which can lead to cancerous cells. This rare cancer is very difficult to treat and has an extremely low prognosis; only about 7-9 percent of mesothelioma patients live five years past diagnosis.

Heather Von St. James, a mesothelioma advocate and one of few survivors who has completely defeated her cancer, says, “When I was young my dad would come home from his construction job covered in drywall dust. I loved wearing his coat for anything I did outside. It was unknown to us it was chock-full of asbestos, and that is how I was exposed.”

Even the smallest amount of asbestos can eventually lead to a mesothelioma diagnosis, and there is no ​safe amount of exposure.

How do I know if it is in my house?

Unless a product is labeled it is extremely difficult to know if it contains asbestos, especially before being disturbed. Asbestos is most commonly found in homes built before the 1980s.

If you’re unsure whether or not a product in your home contains asbestos, the EPA suggests you leave the material alone and have your home inspected by a professional. Inspectors can analyze samples before a home remodel or in the case of damage like crumbling drywall. There is no need to interfere with materials that are in good condition and will not be disturbed during a renovation.

How do I get rid of asbestos?

Unlike normal dust and grime, which can be taken care of using natural, chemical-free cleaning products, asbestos is not a quick fix. Asbestos is not safe​ to handle, even if you are wearing gloves and a dust mask. Trying to sweep it up will send tiny particles in the air, increasing the chance of breathing them in.

If you believe your home contains asbestos, call a trained professional in your area to cover, repair or abate the problem. They are knowledgeable about regulations, and should be able to properly handle and dispose of the material. Asbestos abatement is costly, so call your state EPA or USDA representative to see if you qualify for subsidies.

Is asbestos banned in the US?

No. Asbestos is not banned in the United States, even though the dangers have been known for decades and there are safer alternatives available. It was briefly banned in 1989, but that ruling was vacated and overturned by the Court of Appeals in 1991.

There are many victims, survivors, family members, and advocates dedicating their time and energy to speaking with representatives in Congress and fighting to have asbestos banned in the near future. Click here to read a full history on the regulations surrounding asbestos.

A hidden danger in what many of us consider our “safe haven” may seem daunting, but by being cautious and knowing when to call a professional you can preserve you and your family’s health.