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Asbestos – It's Still in Use and Causing an Epidemic

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Albuquerque, NMCharles Perea is the founder of the Johnny O. Perea Foundation , a charitable organization dedicated to educating the public about the still very present dangers of exposure to asbestos. Charles named the foundation after his father who died of asbestos mesothelioma, just four years after retiring.

Asbestos DangerCharles' father was a carpenter all his working life, except for a brief stint as a pipe fitter when he was young. Between those jobs he came in contact with several of the thousands of products that are manufactured in the United States that contain asbestos. "The only reason he quit work was because he could no longer get up on his scaffolds and move around, because he was having a lot of trouble with his lungs," Charles said.

While Charles is deeply sad about what happened to his father, he is also extremely concerned by the fact that asbestos exposure is very much a present day problem. So large, in fact, he calls it an epidemic. "The real big problem is the fact that the materials that contain asbestos have not been dealt with," he said. "We have tons of asbestos containing material throughout the country, in homes and businesses. That's why I started this non-profit association.

I used to be a safety specialist with the US Postal Service and for nine years I dealt with the compliance end of the asbestos regulatory requirements. I am also an accredited asbestos inspector. So I am the guy who comes out to collect samples of materials to determine whether or not they contain asbestos.

When you go through the training, you're told by the experts that there are only two materials that you don't concern yourself with when you're out taking samples: they are wood and metal. You would think you could also include glass. But all of the putty used decades ago to seal glass panes into window frames contain asbestos. Unfortunately, homes are not regulated by the Environmental Protection Agency.

I get a lot of calls from people who are doing renovations, and there's a great deal of flooding throughout the country, lots of fires. As a result, homeowners are being put in situations whereby they unknowingly disturb asbestos materials in their homes in the process of restoration or renovation. For example, when we collect samples of popcorn ceilings after somebody has scraped half of it off, we see 5 percent chrysotile asbestos, which is beyond the regulatory limit of 1 percent. People don't know that, they have no idea.

I've been dealing with a lady recently who is in that situation, and now she can't sleep at night because she doesn't know what she's done to her children. This is very common. Our attics are full of vermiculite asbestos.

The other thing is that people don't see asbestos on safety data sheets on materials at home building supply stores, because it is given proper mineral names, such as chrysotile. People don't recognize chrysotile as being an asbestos mineral because they hear asbestos and understand it to be one thing. Whereas asbestos refers to a number of minerals."

In fact, asbestos is classified into two groups of minerals– serpentines and amphiboles – based on their fibre structure. The amphibole group is generally considered to be more hazardous because it becomes airborne easily, and its greater persistence in the body.

Chrysotile is a serpentines asbestos, and is made up of fine flexible white fibers. It is the most common type used, accounting for approximately 95 percent of all asbestos found in buildings.

Amphiboles, are made up of five types of asbestos. Specifically, Amosite (brown asbestos), which is the second most common type of asbestos found in building materials. Crocidolite (blue asbestos), and anthophyllite, tremolite and actinolite which are sometimes found as contaminants in asbestos-containing materials.

"In 1973 the US Geological Society (USGS) tracked 855,000 tonnes of asbestos containing materials going out to the public in the US," Charles said. "That was in the peak consumption era. Last year we only consumed 4,000 tonnes. People think that asbestos has been dealt with, the EPA banned it and that it's no longer used. That's just not true."

So where is it currently being used? "The USGS says it's being consumed in products like breaks, clutches, and lots of asphaltic roofing materials," Charles said."It's even being used to repair swimming pools. "We have a huge problem – an epidemic."

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