Are Care Facilities Safe From Asbestos Exposure?

Are Care Facilities Safe From Asbestos Exposure?

Although growing old is part of life's natural cycle, sometimes it comes with challenges that result in many people living in care facilities such as nursing homes. While the care such facilities provide is much needed, facing additional health risks like toxic exposure is not.

In the United States, many homes and facilities built before the 1980s contain some type of asbestos due to the decades-long use of this hazardous mineral in the building industry. Nursing homes and similar facilities are no exception since asbestos was the "miracle material" every industry branch applied until its devastating effects on human health became widely known.

Older buildings generally contain asbestos in their structure, encased in construction products, but the toxic material is also present in appliances of those times, usually in the form of:

  • insulation: pipes, walls, attic, basement, HVAC, boiler, electrical wiring
  • building materials: siding, boards, compounds, tiles

Asbestos is a health risk if it's disturbed, as the microscopic fibers may become airborne and inhaled or ingested, resulting in asbestos-related illness decades later. It is why, in asbestos-contaminated older nursing homes, residents and staff are at risk of asbestos exposure unbeknownst to them. Many U.S. Department of Health's Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) inspections revealed that improvements to these buildings made without respecting asbestos regulations can harm inhabitants when employers fail to test for asbestos or when the staff handles asbestos products and not professionals certified for it.

Even if construction work is small-scale, following OSHA safety rules and protocols is necessary, especially in care homes. A toxin-free and, thus, asbestos-free environment is essential to provide a safe place for employees and residents. Therefore, employers must test building materials before removal and make sure all measures are taken to prevent exposure by using:

  • protective barriers to contain residue
  • respiratory and personal protective equipment
  • negative air purifying machines

In general, the risk of developing an asbestos-related lung disease increases with the amount of asbestos a person inhales. However, given that no amount of asbestos exposure is safe and that those living in care facilities usually already suffer from illnesses, nursing homes should have protocols and plans in place to prevent any toxic exposure cases. No risks should be assumed when remodeling or upgrading a care facility, and a licensed asbestos abatement contractor should be hired. Once construction work is completed, additional testing for asbestos should be conducted.

Asbestos Exposure Is an Ongoing Risk

Regardless of the source, when asbestos fibers are released into the air, they can become lodged in your lungs after inhaling them, potentially leading to disease. It is why it's crucial to consult a doctor as soon as you notice any of the following symptoms, especially if you have a history of asbestos exposure or even if you have only been exposed once:

  • persisting fever
  • ongoing cough
  • wheezing
  • difficulty breathing
  • chest pain
  • thickening, foul odor, or color changes in mucus
  • constantly stuffy nose or sore throat
  • increased fatigue or weakness
  • unintentional weight loss
  • clubbing of fingers on hands or feet

Nevertheless, a single exposure to asbestos is unlikely to harm you. The risk of developing severe asbestos-related diseases such as cancer is low if you have been in contact with asbestos only one time.

Why Should I Test Products in My Home for Asbestos?

It is often impossible to tell whether asbestos is embedded in a material, as the fibers are too small to be observed with the naked eye. Exposure to asbestos is responsible for serious respiratory conditions, so thorough testing is required to ensure your home is asbestos-free.