Asbestos is found in many unexpected areas, as witness a recent warning from Western Australia’s Health Department about traces of asbestos in carpet padding, or underlayment, found in samples taken from a home in Perth.
The padding came to light as part of a larger investigation which supposes that some carpet padding made before the early 1970s might have included recycled Hessian which was shipped in containers previously used to store and/or transport asbestos.
Hessian is another name for jute, burlap or hemp, all fibers used in the making of a specific type of bag also used to transport potatoes, for example, or other produce like onions and cabbage.
Such bags are gradually being replaced by woven, reinforced plastic bags, or FIBC (flexible intermediate bulk container) bags, but this innovation is largely restricted to the 1990s and beyond.
Health Director Jim Dodds noted that this was the first instance of asbestos being found in carpet padding in older homes, but added that vigilance was still necessary to prevent injury, as asbestos – a fiber widely used in insulative, building and home products for most of the last century – is the only recognized cause of mesothelioma.
Mesothelioma, a generally lethal cancer of the mesothelial tissues surrounding the lungs, heart and abdominal organs, has a long dormancy period, during which tumors spread into adjacent tissue and vital organs, doing a great deal of damage before the disease is even diagnosed.
Once diagnosed, most patients are given about a year to live – a prognosis that is not extended to any marked extent by surgery, radiation and chemotherapy. In fact, the only “cure” for mesothelioma may be early diagnosis, now made possible by serum marker tests of the pleural fluid that builds up in mesothelioma patients.
According to Dodds, testing also showed no spread of asbestos fibers from the carpet padding to the home’s air supply, but further testing will be ongoing to determine the exact level of risk presented by contaminated carpet padding, as well as the proportion of older homes that might be affected.
Dodds warned those considering replacing older carpet in older homes to contact the department to confirm whether testing of the old padding might be advantageous, and also reaffirmed existing precautions (sampling, air quality testing, and professional asbestos remediation where needed) in view of this latest finding. These precautions include wearing an appropriate respirator (Class P1 or P2), disposable coveralls, and removing padding in such a way as to minimize the spread of dust.
Similar warnings are applicable in the United States, where older carpet padding may contain asbestos, or the glue used to secure the pad may contain its own load of lethal asbestos. This, in spite of the fact that the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency limited the use of asbestos in domestic product to one percent by weight or volume – a restriction that does not apply to imported products from countries like China, India and Indonesia, where asbestos is still widely used.
Sources: Perth Now, Australian Broadcasting Company