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You maintain buildings for a living. Sometimes you clean them. Sometimes you make minor repairs.
But too often those and other activities expose you to asbestos. For that reason, you have a low to moderate risk of developing mesothelioma.
Activities that can bring you into contact with asbestos include:
Asbestos is a mineral that doesn’t catch fire and completely blocks heat from passing through it. Those two qualities made asbestos a very attractive thing to add to all sorts of construction materials.
Manufacturers once put it inside drywall, paint, plaster, cement pipes, bricks, floor tile, ceiling panels, shingles and electrical boxes.
They added it to insulation material that sprays onto structural steel and pipes or lies down in the spaces between joists and rafters.
This all happened from about the beginning of the 20th century.It continued on until the early 1980s, at which time makers stopped adding asbestos because of government regulations curbing its use.
But because inventories of asbestos-containing construction materials were plentiful, it wasn’t until the 1990s that new buildings could be safely assumed to be asbestos-free.
Experts wish they knew what it is about asbestos that causes mesothelioma. But what they do know is that you can become exposed to asbestos by disturbing the construction materials harboring it.
When you leave those materials alone, the asbestos inside them stays put. When you apply elbow grease to those materials, it can be enough to cause the asbestos to break loose.
Mainly, though, asbestos breaks free when you cut, sand, drill, grind, scrape, hammer, rip or crush those materials.
These actions produce dust. The asbestos hides inside the dust. It can do that because asbestos fibers are so small.
The size also enables asbestos to float in the air, just like dust. It’s this ability of asbestos to float that makes it so dangerous to your health.
The concern is that you might breathe some in if you happen to be in the middle of a mass of floating fibers. Inhaling that stuff delivers it to your lungs.
Unfortunately, the fibers don’t come back out. You can cough like mad trying to expel the fibers, but it does no good. They’re inside permanently.
Decades later, mesothelioma pops up. But beware. Once mesothelioma starts, it grows fast and then spreads like wildfire.
You must catch it early to give yourself a fighting chance at survival.
Asbestos exposure is a very big deal to the Service Employees International Union. That’s the large 2-million-member union to which many maintenance workers belong.
One of the SEIU’s projects in recent years has been to establish a registry of public buildings contaminated by asbestos. The SEIU wants such a registry so that members will be able to refuse entry to asbestos-containing buildings without fear of losing their jobs.
Also, some individual SEIU locals have compelled employers occupying older buildings to include asbestos removal in contracts with SEIU-member employees.
The SEIU also offers information on how members can be safe around asbestos. Contact the union for details.
You should also contact a doctor who specializes in mesothelioma. You might not have the disease yet, but you will almost surely find it a very good idea to get your guard up now.