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Think back to when you were in school – do you remember seeing pipes that looked like they were covered in white paper mache and those colorful floor tiles?  There is a good chance that those pipe coverings and floor tiles contained asbestos.

asbestos-imageAsbestos is a substance that was once widely used in construction and manufacturing and is still used in some instances today.  At one point asbestos was hailed as a miracle product because it’s naturally occurring, cheap and can withstand high temperatures.  These qualities led many manufacturers to use asbestos as fire proofing in buildings and as insulation on products – that’s why it was on those pipes.  It is also used in floor tiles and other products like automobile brake pads because it makes these products last longer.

The problem is that over time, asbestos-containing products can break down and release tiny asbestos fibers.  These fibers become airborne and can be inhaled deep into your lungs and make you sick.  Exposure to asbestos has typically occurred in workplaces and these exposures have caused serious health problems to workers including asbestosis, lung cancer, and mesothelioma—a cancer of the lining of the lung.  It could take up to 40 years for these diseases to develop, but they are all usually fatal.

Is asbestos still a problem?  Yes.  In the U.S. asbestos is still used in manufacturing many products today.  And here in Massachusetts, there are thousands of construction renovation projects occurring in our homes, town halls, malls, medical facilities and schools that involve removing asbestos from these buildings.

Who is at risk from exposure to asbestos?  Workers hired to remove asbestos and construction workers are primarily at risk, along with custodians who unknowingly clean up debris that contains asbestos.  But family members of these workers might also be at risk when their loved ones unintentionally bring asbestos home on their clothes.

Unfortunately, Massachusetts has more than its share of asbestos disease.  The rate of hospitalizations with asbestosis and the rate of mesothelioma are higher here than in the country as a whole.  Close to 100 malignant mesothelioma cases are diagnosed every year in Massachusetts.

Asbestos is serious stuff, but asbestos exposure to construction workers, workers hired to removed asbestos and their loved ones can be prevented.  During the planning stages of any construction or renovation project, all materials containing asbestos must be identified before it is disturbed.  When it is time to remove asbestos only licensed asbestos abatement companies and trained workers provided the proper protection should be used.  When proper equipment and training is provided to these workers, the chances of asbestos exposure to themselves and their families is significantly reduced.

Learn more about asbestos here.

Written By:


Occupational Fatality Projects Coordinator, Occupational Health Surveillance Program

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