Monday, July 7, 2014

A DIY Hazard to Avoid!

Pinterest seemingly has an infinite amount of ideas for "simple" home modification projects. Bathroom cupboards built into the walls between studs. Full walls turned into half walls to make a breakfast bar. Redesigned attic space as a play room. Pulling up the old tile that was in your house and reflooring with pennies. Scraping off the popcorn ceiling and stenciling with gloss and matte paint. The possibilities and ideas are endless!

Obviously each of these projects comes with their own hazards. Popcorn ceiling fluff in your eye. Smashing your thumb with a hammer. Knocking down the wrong part of the wall. While those are all definitely hazards to avoid, today we want to give you information about a more serious hazard to watch for if you do any home projects. Most of us, if not all, have heard about asbestos and that it is not good to be around, but if you are like me that is just about all you knew. Don't click away yet! You may be surprised at what you learn. I was! I'll be honest. I didn't even know exactly what asbestos was, or even if it is synthetic or natural. 

Asbestos is a natural group of fibrous minerals which can be separated and "woven" into threads. The fibers were discovered to be resistant to heat, fire, chemicals, they do not conduct electricity, and they are flexible which made asbestos a great building material until it was linked to illnesses, cancers, and deaths. Amazingly, asbestos still continues to be used in some products

Asbestos fibers enter the body through inhalation or ingestion and then can lodge in the lungs, stomach, or intestines. These un-digestible fibers may cause scar tissue, restricting the use of the organ, but they can also cause lung cancer or malignant mesothelioma. Mesothelioma is a rare cancer, with new cases being diagnosed in 2,500-3,000 Americans each year, which is found in the thin layer of cells that line our internal organs.  

(click image to enlarge) (source)

The prognosis for mesothelioma is not good. I read on that, due to the nature of the cancer, many cases are not detected until the cancer has reached its more advanced stages. The survival rate after diagnosis is often only a year or two. As with most cancers, the earlier it can be caught, the higher the chance of recovery. 

Even if the mesothelioma is caught early, it is said to be one of the most painful and difficult cancers to treat. Because of the rareness of the disease, conducting research on various treatments or therapies is difficult. The most conventional methods used to treat mesothelioma are surgery, chemotherapy, and radiation therapy.

We were made aware of this disease through an email from Cameron Von St. James, the husband of mesothelioma survivor Heather Von St. James. Heather was diagnosed with mesothelioma three months after she gave birth to their daughter. Heather was given 15 months to live. That was 8 years ago now. After her diagnosis she had surgery removing her left lung, which saved her life. Now, she is thriving! Their family is working hard to share their story, spreading awareness of mesothlioma, and to give support to those going through the same struggle Heather went through.

So how can you reduce your chances of mesothelioma? Avoid asbestos exposure. Not sure if the old tile you found under your kitchen linoleum is asbestos? Leave it alone. It is suggested that if the asbestos material can be left intact, leave it and build over it. If the asbestos material is crumbling or falling apart, seek professional help. 


Even if your home is new and the asbestos is at a minimum, you may still be at risk for asbestos exposure if a family member works in an asbestos laden workplace. Secondary exposure can still be enough exposure to inhale or ingest asbestos fibers. 

(click to enlarge) (source)

So before you dive into your home project, be aware! If you think you have found asbestos, leave it alone. Asbestos comes in materials of every shape, color, size, and function so it can be hard to identify which material contain asbestos (asbestos itself can only be identified under a microscope). If you have a question about a certain material containing asbestos check first for any labeling on the product. If you can't find a label, look up the product online or call a professional. 

Also, check out this great pamphlet prepared in the UK about being aware of asbestos during DIY home projects. It has some great information and tips! 

Mesothelioma is a cancer you can take steps to avoid. Arm yourself with the knowledge available to protect yourself and your family from asbestos exposure. It's worth the time.


  1. My dad worked in a shipyard after WW2 and then became a plumber in the early 50s. He worked in many, many ancient homes in our hometown and on Cape Cod. In the fall of 2002 he went to his doc complaining of chest tightness and a persistent cough that was yielding very sticky, long threads of mucous. His doc dismissed it as allergies and post nasal drip. He got worse and worse and in Jan. the docs finally ordered tests. He was diagnosed w/ Stage 4 lung cancer in Feb of 2003. Although they never came out and definitively said it was mesothelioma, I KNOW that's what it was. He'd quit smoking in 1964 and my mom had quit in 1992. The symptoms he had were more like meso than regular lung cancer. He did chemo and radiation that spring of 03 but it was too late. He passed away almost 4 months from the date of diagnosis.

  2. Very good advice! Here in Australia where James Hardie (manufacturer of asbestos products) did the dirty on many of us, people are now in their younger years getting asbestosis and mesothelioma due to renovating older homes. Too many TV shows etc showing doing over homes as easy and not giving adequate advice on how to remove it. There was a documentary/drama I just watched called 'Devil's dust' which showed the true story of a man who fought James Hardie as he and many others were exposed to it through working it in a factory. Even many of the management level got meso or asbestosis and have since died. It is nasty nasty stuff and needs more public awareness. Oh, it can take up to 50 years to see any signs of illness. Not much fun for us who played in it as kids, those who renovated in the 70's, 80's etc or sat on trains with brakes lined with it and open windows (Blue Harris trains in Melbourne are the ones I sat on in the 70's daily!) NEVER EVER EVER be told that fibro cement is safe. It is never safe. Never ever cut it without knowing how to do so protectively. Great article you put here.


Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.