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Concrete finishing is your line of work. It’s a job that demands much from you in terms of know-how and manual skill — especially when it comes to dealing with the toxic asbestos you encounter.
Asbestos exposure has been and likely will continue to be a problem for you as concrete finisher. For that reason, your risk of developing mesothelioma is moderate to high.
Sources of the asbestos you encounter at a jobsite include:
Asbestos no longer is added to concrete. Other materials that accomplish the same thing without the danger of putting people at risk for mesothelioma have been substituted.
Still, you’re almost sure to run into asbestos-containing concrete any time you today work on a restoration, repair or expansion project at a site built with pre-1990 construction materials.
Your risk of asbestos exposure is minimal while you’re setting concrete forms and guiding the concrete from a wagon chute, pump, skip or wheelbarrow. It’s also minimal while you’re raking the freshly placed material to screed it and then leveling it with a bull float or trowel.
The point at which your risk of asbestos exposure rises dramatically is after the concrete hardens and you then cut or polish it.
Before concrete catalyzes, asbestos within it remains locked into the chemical matrix formed by the combination of cement, water and other ingredients. But once the chemical reaction of those ingredients completes, asbestos no longer is bound to the matrix.
Chipping the cured concrete, drilling into it or performing virtually any other action you can take involving a tool provides more than enough disruptive force to release asbestos particles into the air.
Airborne asbestos is dangerous because odds are you’ll breathe or swallow some of the floating fibers if you happen to walk into them.
You might see the dust cloud as you walk toward it — or as it wafts toward you. But you won’t see the individual asbestos fibers because they are very, very tiny.
In fact, they’re just tiny enough to easily be pulled down right into your lungs if you breathe them in — or into your stomach if you happen to get some of the fibers in your mouth and then swallow. After they get inside you, they settle in and remain there always.
This is how mesothelioma happens. The asbestos fibers inside you cause changes to the healthy cells that line your lungs, abdomen and heart.
Decades later, the healthy cells become diseased. Mesothelioma tumors mushroom from those formerly healthy cells.
Construction industry trade unions have long worked to help their members avoid exposure to asbestos and so reduce their risk of mesothelioma.
The Operative Plasterers’ and Cement Masons’ International Association of the United States and Canada is one such union. It represents many of your fellow concrete finishers.
The OPCMIA has done a good job educating its rank-and-file to be safe around asbestos. One important way to cut the risk of exposure is to always work while wearing protective clothing and a full-face respirator.
Another way is to make sure that any concrete you plan to cut, drill, or otherwise disturb is first wetted — that helps keep asbestos particles from rising up into air as they are broken loose.
Meanwhile, make sure you have at least an annual medical checkup that includes X-rays of respiratory, cardiac and intestinal systems.
Tell your doctor you’re concerned about mesothelioma and want to be ready to act at the first sign of trouble.