Mold and asbestos are two of the most toxic airborne pollutants that people are likely to find in homes or businesses. Mold typically forms in dark and damp places. It produces tiny spores that spread through the air, so it is not unusual for mold to spread to anyplace on which the spores can land and continue to grow. Asbestos is made up of minerals - primarily oxygen and silicon, which form bundles along with other minerals. Asbestos produces dust particles that like mold spores, are too small to see with the naked eye, but are easily inhaled, and people who breathe these toxins may not realize that they’ve done so until sickness strikes.
What is Asbestos?
Asbestos consists of minerals that form fiber bundles. Two of the most significant substances in asbestos are oxygen and silicon. The combination of these minerals exists in the air, water, and soil. Everyone is exposed to asbestos through these means, but the small amount of asbestos fibers to which we are exposed is not enough to cause health problems. According to the American Cancer Society, there is a link between two types of asbestos and cancer.
Despite the clear association between asbestos and cancer, the use of asbestos has not been banned in the United States. The creation of the EPA and OSHA in the early 1970s resulted in limits on the use of asbestos.
How is Asbestos Used Today?
Asbestos is found in construction products like roofing shingles makes up 60% of the total amount of asbestos used on any products in all industries. Asbestos is used to make chlorine and products that contain chlorine and lye, and that makes up 35% of the total amount of asbestos that’s still used today.
Other products that contain asbestos include insulation of home walls and attic spaces, siding for homes, vinyl floor tiles, protective blankets that cover hot water pipes, heat-resistant fabrics, and automobile brake pads and gaskets. It is also used in clothing - like aprons and gloves that welders use, and in welder’s blankets.
What Are The Dangers of Asbestos Exposure?
In its most dangerous form, asbestos consists of tiny and delicate fiber bundles. Handling them is sufficient to cause the fibers to separate - dispersing them into the air. People develop asbestos-related problems from repeated exposure. There is no way to prevent asbestos fibers from filling the air. The greatest danger of asbestos occurs when it enters the lungs - through inhalation, or when people cough and ingest it through their saliva.
Lung Diseases Linked to Asbestos
The American Cancer Society says there is a link between asbestos exposure and lung cancer. The longer a person is exposed to asbestos, the higher their risk of developing lung cancer. The risk of developing lung cancer from asbestos exposure increases substantially in people who smoke. Most cases of lung cancer related to asbestos are diagnosed in asbestos workers with 15 or more years of exposure to the toxin.
Each year, roughly 3,000 new cases of mesothelioma are diagnosed in the United States. It is more common to find this somewhat rare form of cancer in men than in women. Mesothelial cells form a lining on the chest wall and around the lungs. Pleural mesothelioma, the most common form of the disease among people exposed to asbestos, starts in that part of the body. The risk of developing this form of cancer isn’t any higher for smokers than it is for non-smokers - unlike the case of lung cancer.
Asbestosis is a condition that affects the lungs. It isn’t a form of cancer, but it does cause irreversible damage to the lungs. People who develop asbestosis have endured many years of regular exposure to asbestosis. And unlike mesothelioma, and like lung cancer, smokers are more likely to develop it. A cough, chest pain and finger and toenail deformities are the most common symptoms of asbestosis. Toe and fingernails become wider and rounder - indicative signs of the disease. People with asbestosis may need supplemental oxygen. In severe cases, patients may need lung transplants.
Mold and Dangers from Exposure
Molds are forms of fungi. According to the CDC, no one knows the exact number of mold species that exist in the world, but estimates range from between tens of thousands to upwards of three hundred thousand species. All molds aren’t harmful. Penicillin is a mold. It reproduces from live spores or seeds that it produces. Those spores are too tiny to see except under magnification. Since mold spores are always floating through the indoor and outdoor air, it’s impossible to eradicate them. Mold becomes a problem when the spores land on a damp spot and start growing. And since mold spores can thrive in warm, dark, and hidden places, it is often a monumental problem for home and business owners following hurricanes.
Mold spores will proliferate and eat everything from paper, dirt, and dust, to carpet, insulation, textiles, and wood and building supports. Mold will also occur from roof or gutter leaks, unvented or improperly vented stoves, or from landscaping issues. HVAC systems can also be the cause of mold outbreaks.
Health Problems and Illnesses Related to Mold Exposure
In the workplace, people who suffer from discomfort related to mold exposure suffer from “sick building syndrome.” People who are most likely to experience the adverse effects of mold exposure are very young children, elderly individuals, people who have allergies (especially to mold), people who have asthma or other respiratory diseases and conditions, and people who have immune deficiencies.
Common symptoms include itchy and watery eyes, sneezing, runny nose, coughing, severe reactions include hypersensitivity pneumonitis, a lung inflammation that develops as a result of an allergy-like reaction that creates an immune sensitivity. Unlike pneumonia, it’s not treated with antibiotics.
The greatest dangers to people who work in environments where they are exposed to mold or asbestos occur due to inhalation of things that can’t be seen.
Choosing the Best PPE for Mold and Asbestos Removal
Disposable personal protective equipment is the optimal solution for environmental remediation workers who are removing mold from damaged structures. Likewise, it’s also useful for individuals who are part of asbestos removal teams. One of the benefits of disposable clothing is that many mold spores and asbestos fiber bundles will land on surfaces without ever being seen. By disposing of protective clothing, workers contain the contaminants just as they are when they isolate contaminated surfaces after removing them from buildings or homes.
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