Reduce the Risk of Exposure to Asbestos

How can Families Reduce the Risk of Exposure to Asbestos?

If your doctor finds that you have been exposed to significant amounts of asbestos, ask whether your children might also be exposed. Your doctor might need to ask your state health department to investigate.

The most important way that families can lower their exposures to asbestos is to be aware of the sources of asbestos in their homes and avoid exposure to these sources. The most important source of asbestos in a home is from damaged or deteriorating asbestos-containing insulation, ceiling, or floor tiles. Should you suspect that your house may contain asbestos, contact your state or local health department or the regional offices of EPA to find out how to test your home for asbestos and how to locate a company that is trained to remove or contain the fibers. Federal law requires schools to identify asbestos-containing material in school buildings and take appropriate action to control release of asbestos fibers.

If you live close to where asbestos and certain other ores are mined or processed, where a building that contains asbestos products is being torn down or renovated, or a waste site where asbestos is not properly covered, then the levels of asbestos in dust and wind-blown soil may be higher. Pets can also bring asbestos into the home by carrying dust or dirt on their fur or feet if they spend time in places that have high levels of asbestos in the soil. Swallowing of asbestos in house dust or soil is a potential exposure pathway for children. This problem can be reduced in many ways. Regular hand and face washing to remove asbestos-containing dusts and soil, especially before meals, can lower the possibility of asbestos fibers on the skin being accidentally swallowed while eating. Families can lower exposures to asbestos by regularly cleaning the home of dust and tracked in soil. Door mats can help lower the amount of soil that is tracked into the home; removing your shoes before entering will also help. Planting grass and shrubs over bare soil areas in the yard can lower the contact that children and pets may have with soil and reduce the tracking of soil into the home.

You can bring asbestos home in the dust on your hands or clothes if you work in the mining or processing of minerals that contain asbestos, in asbestos removal, or in buildings with damaged or deteriorating asbestos. Federal law regulates work practices to limit the possibility of asbestos being brought home in this way. Your occupational health and safety officer at work can and should tell you whether chemicals you work with are dangerous and likely to be carried home on your clothes, body, or tools, and whether you should be showering and changing clothes before you leave work, storing your street clothes in a separate area of the workplace, or laundering your work clothes at home separately from other clothes.

Your employer should have Material Safety Data Sheets (MSDSs) for many of the chemicals used at your place of work, as required by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA). Information on these sheets should include chemical names and hazardous ingredients, important properties (such as fire and explosion data), potential health effects, how you get the chemical(s) in your body, how to handle the materials properly, and what to do in an emergency. Your employer is legally responsible for providing a safe workplace and should freely answer your questions about hazardous chemicals.

Either OSHA or your OSHA-approved state occupational safety and health program can answer any further questions and help your employer identify and correct problems with hazardous substances. OSHA and/or your OSHA-approved state occupational safety and health program will listen to your formal complaints about workplace health hazards and inspect your workplace when necessary. Employees have a right to seek safety and health on the job without fear of punishment.

Is there a medical test to determine whether I have been exposed to Asbestos?

Individuals who have been exposed (or suspect they have been exposed) to asbestos fibers on the job or at home via a family contact should inform their physician of their exposure history and any symptoms. Asbestos fibers can be measured in urine, feces, mucus, or material rinsed out of the lungs. A thorough physical examination, including a chest x-ray and lung function tests, may be recommended. It is important to note that chest x-rays cannot detect asbestos fibers in the lungs, but they can help identify any lung changes resulting from asbestos exposure. Interpretation of the chest x-ray may require the help of a specialist who is experienced in reading x-rays for asbestos-related diseases. Other tests also may be necessary. As noted earlier, the symptoms of asbestos-related diseases may not become apparent for many decades after exposure. If any of the following symptoms develop, a physical examination should be scheduled without delay:


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