Asbestos in Heating Ducts.
Prior to the 1980s, most heating ducts used an insulation that contained asbestos. Today, we know that asbestos can cause a cancer known as mesothelioma, which is extremely aggressive and results from direct or indirect exposure to materials containing asbestos that release asbestos dust or fibers into the air.
Unfortunately, the HVAC industry unwittingly used asbestos paper and lagging cloth for years to insulate both residential and commercial systems. These materials were also used to repair weak spots in heating ducts and reinforce the system as a whole, with an unknown number of buildings across the USA still containing such materials.
Before we began to truly understand its many harmful effects, asbestos was long mined and used in a number of household projects. It's excellent for insulating, which is why cloth and pipe wrapping often contained it to help insulate HVAC systems better than other materials of the time.
If your home or office was built prior to the 1980s, it's very possible that you have an HVAC system containing dampeners, lagging cloth, or asbestos paper that could be exposing you to asbestos.
How Does Exposure Happen?
When dormant, materials containing asbestos can go without causing harm for decades. The danger only presents itself when the asbestos containing material is disturbed, releasing dust or harmful fibers into the air. If you work or live near materials that contain asbestos, you could be at risk of exposure.
People at the highest risk include HVAC, insulation factory, steel, duct, and construction workers alongside their family members. If you do any DIY work in your home, you could also be at risk. While manufacturers stopped using asbestos for heating ducts in the 1980s, countless older systems are still in use today.
Understanding The Health Risks
So, what happens if your HVAC system contains asbestos paper, lagging cloth, or another asbestos material and you're exposed to it? You first need to understand how exposure and risk accumulate when it comes to asbestos.
A one-time short-term exposure event likely won't have any ill effects on your health, but the thing about asbestos dust and fibers is that they accumulate within your body, so even very short exposure periods can harm you if they recur throughout your lifetime. If enough gets into your system, the asbestos can lead to mesothelioma, which is a very deadly cancer.
Unfortunately, when asbestos is disturbed, the airborne fibers can be inhaled or ingested by everyone nearby and you won't know it. Once in the body, these tiny fibers get stuck in the lining of your body and lungs, and our bodies are not capable of removing the fibers that have been lodged internally.
What Do Asbestos Fibers Do?
If you want more details on the science behind how asbestos fibers lead to mesothelioma, it's a well studied phenomena. Once in the body, the asbestos fibers trigger nearby cells to mutate, which turns healthy cells into dangerous, cancerous ones known as mesothelioma cells. With time, these mesothelioma cells will grow and spread the disease throughout the body.