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Does Your Home Hold Deadly Asbestos?

Feb 17, 2003 |

You've no doubt heard that asbestos is bad. But you haven't heard the disturbing new evidence that this silent poison is hiding undetected in millions of American homes.

The numbers are staggering. As many as 35 million homeowners may be living in asbestos-filled homes with no idea of the seriousness of the problem.

Judy Arndt and her 8-year-old daughter, Katelyn, love their Gresham home, designed and built by her husband, Chris.

"One of his wishes was that Katelyn and I would live in this house after he died. He said that's what he was building this home for. It was his dream home, and he never got to live in it. He died before it was finished," Arndt said.

Chris was a contractor and worked on many homes containing asbestos. Four years ago, he felt a pain in his neck and shoulder.

Chris' pain was mesothelioma, cancer of the lung lining caused by asbestos.

"Half of our clients don't live until trial," Al Brayton of Brayton-Purcell said.

Brayton has been handling asbestos cases for two decades, and every year there are more.

"The fibers that can hurt you aren't the fibers you can see. If you see visible dust from asbestos, you are at 40 times the safe level of exposure," he explained.

Asbestos fibers are tough, durable and don't break down prized qualities in building materials but deadly in your body.

"The walls. Typically gypsum wallboard does not have it, but joint compound can and does often," Tom Thompson said.

Thompson has made a career out of hunting asbestos, finding it in more than 3,000 different building materials.

"Occasionally carpet mastic can have it, especially the black petroleum base."

Thompson said ceilings from the 1960s and 1970s are very likely to contain asbestos.

Asbestos products are common in most houses built before 1980, in the siding, the duct and pipe insulation, vinyl flooring, wall plaster, ceiling tiles and coatings, roofing shingles and insulation. It's in so much that it's hard to keep track. But the price of not knowing is high.

"I guess they call it popcorn texture. It came off along with whatever dirt," Lynn Hanson said.

Every time Hanson cleaned her ceiling, little bits of popcorn texture fell off, and she vacuumed them up. Professionals won't touch the popcorn without absolute protection. Hanson didn't know.

"I came down with a bad cold. I couldn't get rid of it," she said.

Her cold was caused by a baseball sized tumor in her lung, mesothelioma. The doctor's prognosis was grim.

"I don't like to come right out and say it, but barring a miracle, it's certain death," Hanson said.

She endured a painful surgery, but there was no miracle. She passed away two springs ago.

The EPA says there is no safe level of asbestos exposure. Many doctors believe that inhaling just one tiny fiber can trigger an asbestos-related disease.

You can have your home tested for asbestos products. Expect to pay about $350.

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