Weather Forecast


Editorial: Avoiding exposure to asbestos

This week is Asbestos Awareness Week and it comes as a good reminder to take precautions before remodeling to prevent exposure.

Each year in the United States, 2,000-3,000 people are diagnosed with a deadly form of lung disease caused by exposure to asbestos and 10,000 Americans die each year from all asbestos-related diseases. While most exposures to asbestos occur in the workplace, many victims of asbestos disease were exposed in their own homes and didn’t know it.

The Minnesota Department of Health, working with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, is increasing its efforts to make people aware of the dangers of asbestos exposure.

Asbestos has been used in thousands of products because of its strength and flexibility, acoustical properties and resistance to heat, chemicals and electricity. When building materials that contain asbestos are disturbed, asbestos fibers can become airborne in the home or workplace.

Breathing in asbestos fibers over a long period can cause serious illness, including malignant lung cancer, mesothelioma and asbestosis. Many symptoms of asbestos-related diseases do not appear for 20 or more years, making it difficult to diagnose.

In Minnesota, there are about 1.4 million homes built before 1981 that could have asbestos in a variety of building materials: textured ceilings, floor and ceiling tiles, linoleum, boiler and pipe insulation, duct wrap insulation and seam tape, sheetrock, plaster, roofing felt, shingles, and exterior slate siding. Commercial and public buildings of approximately the same age range could have asbestos in similar building products.

The only way to know for sure if you have asbestos is to have building materials tested. Asbestos inspections must be done by a certified asbestos inspector. Similarly, handling or removal of asbestos-containing materials should be done by a licensed asbestos abatement contractor.

MDH has developed factsheets and educational materials that provide guidance on testing, remediation and proper management of asbestos-containing building materials. They can be obtained from the MDH website at /index.html or by calling 651-201-4620.