The issues with asbestos exposure in the Australian construction industry have made worldwide headlines. On a smaller scale, but no less dangerous, are the instances of asbestos exposure felt among homeowners carrying out “do-it-yourself” home remodeling projects. With the current economic crisis, many homeowners are attempting to save money by doing their own work on their homes, but the dangers they are encountering may not be worth the savings.
A recent survey of homeowners in the Australian state of New South Wales showed that sixty percent of those who started “do-it-yourself” remodeling projects inadvertently exposed themselves to high levels of asbestos. Of those surveyed, more than half said that their spouse had also been exposed to the dangerous mineral during their remodeling projects, and forty percent said that their children had been in contact with asbestos products.
Dr. Anthony Johnson, a lung disease specialist at the Liverpool Hospital in Sydney, conducted the survey of more than 3,600 homeowners who have taken on their own home remodeling jobs. He characterized the results as “startling” and was surprised at the “flippant” attitude that many of them displayed when confronted with the dangers of asbestos exposure. He said that, although the workers reported that they understood the hazards involved in handling asbestos, many of them are willing to take the risks.
As recently as the mid-1980s, many homes in Australia were constructed using asbestos as insulation, roofing tiles, or laced in cement as a bonding agent. The Australian construction materials company James Hardie Industries Ltd. provided many of these materials as well as overseeing many asbestos mines throughout the country. The company encountered serious legal issues, including the possibility of criminal charges against its executives, as instances involving asbestos exposure among homeowners came to light during the 1990s and early 2000s. Today, Australia has banned the use of asbestos in construction materials.
Many of these homeowners who are carrying out these projects are working with the asbestos-laced materials left in these houses over the last few decades. Any work that involves cutting or breaking asbestos-laced materials will often result in the dangerous asbestos fibers becoming airborne. These fibers can cause serious lung disorders when inhaled.
The most severe asbestos-related disease is mesothelioma, a form of cancer that affects the soft fluid layer around the lungs. Mesothelioma patients may not exhibit symptoms for several years after their initial exposure period, but will typically live less than two years after their diagnosis. Patients also do not need to be exposed to high, consistent levels of the toxic mineral to develop the disease; even very brief, limited exposure can result in a patient developing mesothelioma or other lung diseases.
According to Dr. Johnson, an average mesothelioma patient can be asymptomatic for almost fifty years, which may be a leading factor in why workers who handle asbestos “discount future risks”. He also said that, while his poll data is limited to his home state, he expects that the results would be consistent across the country.
Previously, Australian scientists expected the incidence rate of mesothelioma to peak within the next ten years. However, Dr. Johnson has stated that these estimates will have “a much longer tail” due to the exposure rate among home renovators and do-it-yourself-ers.
Sources: Sydney Morning Herald, Topnews.us