Join Date: Jul 2011
Location: Somewhere, USA
Exposed to asbestos, now very concerned
I'm sorry for writing a book, but I am very concerned and genuinely appreciate the feedback of anyone who takes the time to read this lengthy post.
About two weeks ago, I was exposed to asbestos during a flooring removal project that I was tricked into doing by someone I formerly regarded as a friend. I am out of work and was told by this person that the contractor he was working for would pay me to do some yard work at a home site. Only after I got in his car and drove over an hour away did he tell me we were actually going to rip up a floor...he knew the whole time that I would never have agreed to this because of health concerns over asbestos but tricked me into doing it so that he could be finished faster.
I didn't know much about asbestos, except that it was bad news. I knew it could be in floors but only knew how to recognize it as fluffy white stuff or acoustic ceilings. Since I didn't see any dust on the partially-destroyed floor, and my friend assured me that it did not contain asbestos, I helped for a few hours (since I was basically trapped) before becoming disgusted with the situation and leaving.
The house was built around WWII and had about 7 layers of flooring in the kitchen, which is where I worked. When I got home, I did some research, and found that about 5 layers of that flooring were likely to contain asbestos. They were:
-Original hardwood (safe)
-9"x9" vinyl tiles and black mastic (almost certainly contained it)
-sheet vinyl with backing and adhesive (probably contained it)
-1/4" brown underlayment fiber board (may have contained it)
-another layer of sheet vinyl (probably had it)
-another 1/4" white underlayment board
-another layer of sheet vinyl (top layer, most recent, probably ok)
NO precautions whatsoever were taken during removal. No protective gear, no wetting of material, and it was being cut with a circular saw and hammered, chiseled, pried, and torn up. Stupid? Absolutely, but it was not my choice to be there and I was told it was safe.
What really concerns me is that there seems to be no way of assessing your risk, and that one-time exposures can be fatal 15-40 years down the road. I am in my twenties, exercise regularly, eat a healthy diet, don't smoke, etc. but none of that seems to matter regarding developing mesothelioma. This has me literally worried sick and I have had problems eating and sleeping as well as digestive issues and panic attacks. I honestly can't believe it even happened--this was, in my mind, something that happened to people who worked with the stuff for years (not that those situations are not equally harrowing), and something I knew better than to mess with. It also could not have happened at a worse time, because I was having a hard enough time dealing with losing my job.
Now, based on everything I have read, it seems like I'm doomed. Law firms and medical websites seem to make it out to be the worst disaster of the 20th century, a product that kills more people than car accidents. On the other hand there are people who worked with it every day and still consider it safe. I realize it's in the air and that it's everywhere in buildings...in fact it's in my own house (but I have never disturbed it). Some say one fiber is all it takes, others say it's only the blue or brown stuff that's dangerous, some say it'll only kill you if you smoke. I know of people who encounter it and think nothing of breaking it up and throwing it away, but also know of two people who died from it. One did the roof on our house, and worked with asbestos roofing materials since he was young. He also smoked, and died of lung cancer at 60. Our car mechanic and family friend was likely exposed to the dust from brake drums. He didn't smoke and was in otherwise excellent health when he died of a tumor in his bronchial tubes at age 82.
I felt better knowing that mesothelioma is a "rare" disease until I read that it kills 3,000 people in the US every year. 3,000 people a year does not seem "rare" to me! 10 people a year might, but that many are dying every day, according to most statistics. This of course does not even account for lung cancer or asbestosis-related deaths. Everyone I've mentioned it to has seemed to think it a non-issue since the stuff is everywhere and it seems to be a problem associated with an older generation.
While I realize there are risks involved with everything in life, they are usually calculated and miniscule. Sure, microwaves, aerosol cans, cell phones, car exhaust and processed meat are all rumored to cause cancer too, but no one has ever died of "processed meat-related cancer" or "car exhaust cancer." Mesothelioma is specifically tied to asbestos, and nothing else, as far as I can tell. I also take risks by riding a motorcycle, for instance--but if I decided I didn't want to take that risk any more and never rode again, I would never die in a motorcycle accident. Even if I'm never around asbestos again, my risk does not decrease, and I could die from it.
I called DHEC because I was unsure of where to turn. The inspector was the first person who actually seemed take this even seriously. He told me that he was not a doctor, but that this should be considered a high-intensity exposure (from what I'd described) and that the level of risk was unknown. It did increase my chances of getting an asbestos-related disease, but by how much, no one knew. He was fairly confident that an exposure of this level was not likely to result in significant lung impairment, because that was usually associated with long-term inhallation of asbestos in high concentrations over long periods of time. If anything, it could eventually lower my resistance to lung infections, and increased my risk of mesothelioma. The only slightly positive thing he said on the subject was that although asbestos deserved its reputation, if it were as dangerous as the law firms made out, his job would be to stack bodies in the street like the Black Plague had come through, rather than to inspect houses.
Basically, it seems like I will either never develop any kind of noticable symptoms, or I will die from it, and there's no way of knowing until it happens. The fact that the disease seems to stem from mechanical damage, and that the fibers are never removed from the body, indicates that lifestyle factors such as diet and exercise are not applicable, and that the younger you are when exposed, the more likely you will live long enough to develop enough damage to result in a disease from exposure.