Housing insulation can reduce energy costs by easily keeping a home more comfortable in very cold and very hot temperatures. Older homes often have insulation that consists of asbestos, but this does not necessarily pose a health risk. Here are the basics of asbestos, and tips for homeowners that live in older homes insulated with asbestos materials:
What is Asbestos?
People frequently toss around the word "asbestos" and understand that it is a dangerous material, but few know what it is and why it is toxic. Asbestos is a fiber-like type of mineral found all over the world; in North America, it is particularly common in Quebec.
There are six types of asbestos; each type has a different chemical makeup and different properties. During the peak of asbestos mining, people used different types of asbestos for different projects and products according to the properties associated with the asbestos type. The asbestos types most frequently used in insulation are Tremolite and Actinolite; insulation manufacturers combined Tremolite or Actinolite with Vermiculite, another fiber-like mineral, for home and building insulation.
Why is Asbestos Dangerous?
Asbestos causes a human health risk only when inhaled. When a person inhales asbestos in large quantities or for extended periods of time, that person is at risk for the following medical conditions:
- Mesothelioma: A tumor develops on the wall of the lung or the abdomen, causing a dry cough and chest or abdominal pains. Left untreated, the tumor develops into a cancer; the cancer may not develop until well after asbestos exposure--even as long as 40 years after the exposure.
- Asbestosis: Scar-like tissue develops in the lungs, causing difficulty breathing, shortness of breath, and rasps when inhaling or exhaling.
- Lung Cancer: Exposure to asbestos can result in lung cancer, though the cancer generally does not develop until well after asbestos exposure. The risks of acquiring lung cancer as a result of asbestos exposure significantly increase if the exposed person also smokes.
Who Should Be Concerned About Asbestos Exposure?
If a house was built prior to 1990, there is a good chance that the home contains Vermiculite insulation and, as a result, asbestos. Yet, just because a house's insulation contains asbestos does not place its occupants at immediate risk.
Because asbestos is only toxic if inhaled, insulation containing asbestos poses a health danger only if the asbestos is exposed to the air. Well-contained Vermiculite insulation is generally not problematic, especially if contained in a low-trafficked area, like a house attic.
For homeowners living in a house with well-contained asbestos, a professional can inspect the insulation, enhance containment features, and fix any potential problems. Regular inspections should prevent asbestos from becoming airborne. For homeowners living in a house with less-than-protected insulation, a professional can address any fixable issues or, if the risks are too great, re-insulate with newer, asbestos-free materials.
For more help, contact a company such as Warm Home Insulation Ltd. with any questions or concerns.