Mesothelioma is a rare but aggressive type of cancer that can attack cells in the lining of both the lungs and the abdomen. The main cause and the biggest risk factor associated with mesothelioma is exposure to asbestos fibres, and most people who have contracted mesothelioma were known to have worked in conditions where they would have breathed in asbestos fibre or dust. Mesothelioma’s name originates from the part of the lung it affects; the membrane known as the mesothelium, which surround the chest and abdomen.
Causes of Mesothelioma and its relation to sick building
Because mesothelioma is caused by a contaminant that you breathe in indoors, it is commonly associated with sick building syndrome. Sick building syndrome (SBS) is when people suffer from acute health effects associated with spending time indoors because of contaminants within the air. Sick building syndrome covers a variety of contaminants, symptoms and problems and as a more defined disease mesothelioma could more accurately be called a building related illness than part of sick building syndrome. An understanding of both is relevant though because they are closely linked – any building with asbestos in is also likely to contain other contaminants, such as nitrogen dioxide, sulphur dioxide or carbon monoxide, that could lead to sick building syndrome.
Is my home or business likely to contain asbestos?
Asbestos was extensively mined in Canada and used in building both offices and homes because of its many useful properties as a building material. Because of this Canada has one of the highest
mesothelioma cancer rates in the world with about 500 cases seen every year (source: cmfonline.org); with the number of people being diagnosed each year steadily increasing, partly due to diagnostic improvements and partly due to the fact that it does not present until many years after exposure (source: cmaj.ca).
If you are concerned about asbestos in your place of work you can use the following questions to determine what risk you are of being exposed and what action you should take next:
- When was your building built? If your home or place of business was built anywhere between 1920 and 1990 there is a high chance that asbestos was used in the construction process as insulation (in walls, ceilings, and around pipes), as an ingredient in textured paint or even in electrical wiring. If your building was built after 1990 it is highly unlikely it to contain asbestos since by this time it was known to be a carcinogen and its usage became restricted.
- Can you see signs of damage? Asbestos fibres are only released into the air when the material is damaged so if your building is still as good as new you are at a lower risk. If however you can see that older materials within your building – especially pipes and insulation – are disintegrating, you could be at risk of breathing in asbestos fibres.
- Are you planning on renovating soon? Because breathing in asbestos and thus contracting mesothelioma is only likely when damage has been done to materials containing asbestos you are at the highest risk if you are renovating, particularly if you are likely to be doing it yourself rather than using the services of a professional. If this is the case, you should be wary of the risk of cutting into a material that could potentially contain asbestos.
What should I do if I am worried about mesothelioma?
If your home or office was built between 1920 and 1990, and you are saying yes to either of the second and third questions above, or you are worried about mesothelioma, then you should consider contacting a professional. A professional will do a survey, take samples and test them for asbestos. If asbestos is present, then they can then arrange for either repairs or removal depending on the material and the extent of the risk.