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Echo Press Editorial: Are you being exposed to asbestos?

Asbestos continues to pose public health risks.

In the past few years, Douglas County officials found asbestos while remodeling the Service Center and Alexandria School District 206 had to remove asbestos from Lincoln Elementary School.

Just a couple of weeks ago, the city of Alexandria learned that steam pipes buried deep underneath Broadway are coated in asbestos, which will add to the cost of the reconstruction project when the pipes are replaced.

These are all public projects but the everyday person remodeling their home or office needs to be aware of asbestos exposure as well.

Asbestos Awareness Week, April 6-12, aims to make people aware that asbestos is still a problem. Each year in the U.S., between 2,000 and 3,000 people are diagnosed with a deadly form of lung disease caused by exposure to asbestos and 10,000 Americans die each year from all asbestos-related diseases.

While most exposures to asbestos occur in the workplace, many victims of asbestos disease were exposed in their own homes and didn’t know it, according to the Minnesota Department of Health (MDH). “Increased awareness of asbestos in our home and work environments is important so that parents, health care providers, housing authorities, building and construction interests, educators and others can work together to prevent exposure,” said Minnesota Health Commissioner Dr. Ed Ehlinger.

Asbestos has been used in thousands of products because of its strength and flexibility, acoustical properties and resistance to heat, chemicals and electricity. When building materials that contain asbestos are disturbed, asbestos fibers can become airborne in the home or workplace. Breathing in asbestos fibers over a long period can cause serious illness, including malignant lung cancer, mesothelioma and asbestosis. Many symptoms of asbestos-related diseases do not appear for 20 or more years, making it difficult to diagnose.

“For these reasons, we want Minnesotans to know that if they are going to renovate their home or commercial property, they need to find out if existing building materials contain asbestos so it can be dealt with safely and properly,” said Dan Locher, asbestos and lead compliance program supervisor for MDH.

In Minnesota, there are about 1.4 million homes built before 1981 that could have asbestos in a variety of building materials: textured ceilings, floor and ceiling tiles, linoleum, boiler and pipe insulation, duct wrap insulation and seam tape, Sheetrock, plaster, roofing felt, shingles, and exterior slate siding.

Commercial and public buildings of approximately the same age range could have asbestos in similar building products. The only way to know for sure if you have asbestos is to have building materials tested. Asbestos inspections must be done by a certified asbestos inspector. Similarly, handling or removal of asbestos-containing materials should be done by a licensed asbestos abatement contractor.

“Trying to do the work yourself could put you, your family and the public at risk,” Locher said. For information on how to find a qualified asbestos inspector or contractor, visit the MDH website at