Many people venture into their attics at this time of year to pull out treasured family Christmas ornaments and decorations. Unfortunately, in some older homes this innocent holiday activity has the potential to expose parents and children alike to the dangers of asbestos.
Asbestos is a mineral fiber that was used for decades in building materials and other products due to its durability and ability to resist fire. However, studies have linked asbestos to serious diseases such as mesothelioma, a rare and deadly cancer. There are 3,200 cases of mesothelioma diagnosed annually in the United States.
Before the health hazards of asbestos were widely understood, an estimated 35 million buildings in the U.S.—including many homes built in the nation’s snowbelt—were insulated with Zonolite. This brand of insulation was made with a mineral called vermiculite that sometimes contained asbestos, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).
There is no level of asbestos exposure that is considered safe. So the EPA advises homeowners not to store boxes or other items in an attic insulated with vermiculite. Without professional testing, there is just no telling if the dust contains asbestos fibers. If asbestos dust is on boxes of holiday decorations that are moved into living areas, the tiny fibers could become airborne and be inhaled by anyone in the home. Making trips in and out of the attic with the boxes could also expose you or loved ones to this toxic substance.
Enjoy the festive season but make sure to protect your family and yourself from exposure to asbestos: Consider leaving those old ornaments and decorations in the attic.