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How much is too much when it comes to asbestos exposure?

While it has long been known that exposure to asbestos can be deadly, no one has been able to confirm the exact level at which exposure becomes harmful. Should it be measured in duration of exposure or concentration? Is it more dangerous to be around small amounts of asbestos for long periods of time, or could breathing in a high number of particles in a short amount of time be more hazardous? 

The fact is that no one has determined what might be a safe level of exposure, if one even exists. This can create an extremely frightening situation for people who have been exposed to asbestos. Sadly, they may not know for 20, 30 or even 40 years if their level of exposure was enough to cause catastrophic injuries. That is the situation facing tenants at an apartment complex who recently learned that renovation work in their building likely exposed them to asbestos.

We discussed this situation in a previous post, which can be read here, and a recent examination of air samples on site has brought up the questions of how much is too much when it comes to asbestos.

A study of the air and dust at the building was conducted by the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry. After the study concluded the agency reported to the Environmental Protection Agency that while asbestos was indeed found in the air samples, they did not believe the levels were sufficient enough to put people in immediate danger. However, they were careful to note that they cannot rule out the potential for long-term health risks of exposure.

Now residents are considering their legal options. They understand that there is no confirmed level at which asbestos is safe, and the fact that they were exposed to the toxic fiber for months could be reason enough to be fearful of getting sick in the future. Despite the assurances by the ATSDR that residents will likely not be harmed by low-level exposure, there is no way to predict what will happen to them in the future. Taking steps now to protect themselves could prove to be very beneficial in the long run, should they ultimately develop an asbestos-related illness.

Source: The Washington Post, "Federal Study: Asbestos exposure okay for short term at Alexandria apartment complex," Patricia Sullivan, April 24, 2014

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