In the past decade, due in part to popular television shows about interior decorating and “flipping”–buying a fixer-upper home, renovating it and reselling it for a profit—home improvement has become a popular pastime for many Americans.
Armed with knowledge they accrue through Google searches and by consulting with their local Home Depot, these individuals are able to accomplish a lot of work that otherwise would have required hiring contractors or experienced specialists. There is one aspect of home improvement, however, that is always better left to the professionals: asbestos removal. Anyone who defies this rule of renovation is putting him- or herself at risk for the deadly cancer mesothelioma, which is caused almost exclusively by exposure to asbestos.
The trouble with asbestos is twofold. First, it was extensively used in building and construction products, such as insulation, ceiling texture, drywall, siding, and tiling. If the home you’re renovating was built before 1980, there’s a very good chance it contains asbestos in several different places. Secondly, asbestos material can become “friable,” or able to disintegrate easily and therefore become inhaled, when it is damaged—think ripping out tile, using a sledgehammer to knock out walls, or removing old insulation from an attic. Activities like these can release clouds of toxic asbestos dust into the air, which can then be breathed in, unless the workers are properly outfitted with respirators and safety gear.
The microscopic, needlelike particles of this particulate can embed themselves in the body, since they are too small to be caught by the lungs’ natural filtration system. Once they are there, they can cause cellular changes to the mesothelium—a membrane which lines and protects the lungs and chest cavity—leading to the development of malignant tumors.
In some states, it is illegal for homeowners or anyone else who is not trained and licensed in asbestos abatement procedures to undertake this dangerous work. Regardless of the laws in your state, hiring professionals to perform this aspect of your renovation work is well worth the cost. If you suspect that asbestos may be lurking within the structure you are improving, please contact the authorities for air testing and abatement services.