Fifteen years ago, I stood in the middle of my living room, looked up at the offensive 1960s ceiling tiles and started crying with a vengeance.
I refused to let the dingy and dated tiles mar the look of our living space any longer. I clawed and grabbed with my bare hands at the 40-year-old building material. It disintegrated at the touch, falling into messy clumps on the floor and scattering a fine dust in the air.
After removing all the tiles, I tossed the debris into garbage bags and happily dumped them in our garbage cans outside for a one-way ticket to the local landfill.
Today, I look back at that scene in horror. Why? I wore no special clothing or mask for protection, and I never thought of cordoning off the room with plastic sheets to protect my three young children from what might have been deadly asbestos.
While I will never know for sure, I strongly suspect that dated ceiling tile contained the cancer-causing mineral. Although the minimal exposure doesn’t pose a long-term health risk, it scares me to know my lungs and those of my husband and children may harbor lethal asbestos fibers.
Ignorance ruled that day.
Like most of us, I’ve watched the late-night television commercials informing people with mesothelioma about possible legal compensation for occupational asbestos exposure. I’ve known asbestos isn’t a good thing, but I never thought I’d be affected.
Many older buildings in the U.S. contain some form of asbestos — floor or ceiling tiles, plumbing pipe insulation, roofing insulation or any combination of these. Builders used asbestos profusely from the turn of the century to the 1970s because of its excellent fire-retardant qualities.
I’m involved in an ongoing renovation of our 1950s church, and it reminded me recently of that possible exposure to asbestos from a few months ago. As we update our church building, we continue encountering asbestos floor tiles in different areas.
I’ve noticed a careless and fearless attitude among the volunteers engaged in removing the asbestos floor tiles.
My own ignorance of asbestos ended a year and a half ago when I began writing for Asbestos.com. I read extensively about asbestos in order to prepare for the new assignment.
Suddenly, I understood what all the hoopla was about:
Asbestos is a substance not to be reckoned with unprepared.
Furthermore, I learned of two people I knew, my uncle and my sister’s father-in-law, who lost their lives to mesothelioma. My mom and sister never mentioned the specifics of their loved ones’ cancer until they heard I wrote about asbestos and asbestos-related diseases.
That hit close to home.
I write this for all the people out there (and I know there are many) who are not fully informed about asbestos — like I used to be. You know asbestos is bad, but you might not give it much thought when you’re headlong into a DIY home project.
You may work in an older building with chipped or cracked floor tiles. Maybe ceiling tiles are crumbling in some areas. These things happen because the asbestos in the products is friable, meaning that it crumbles easily.
You think it’s a small problem, but it’s not. These friable asbestos-containing materials send loose fibers into the air, allowing anyone in the area to inhale them. Unfortunately, the tiny threads never leave the lungs.
Sometimes cancerous tumors form around those fibers, leading to the deadly disease mesothelioma.
Exposure is serious and avoidable.
As long as homes and buildings constructed prior to the 1970s remain standing, everyone across the globe faces exposure. This means most of us will probably encounter the toxic substance at some time or another. If left undisturbed it poses no harm; the danger comes when the materials are disrupted.
Protect yourself and your loved ones from the dangers of asbestos:
Asbestos kills over and over again. Take it seriously and take it personally.
These days, when it comes to renovations at my church, I serve as the “asbestos police,” and I’m proud of it.