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Lung diseases

Fiberglass

07/16/2010

Question:

I bought a home 8 months ago. The home is 2 y/o. The owners did some work in a bonus room and basement. They left insulation uncovered in the basement. I have noticed recently that the HVAC is drawing air from the basement, but the basement is unoccupied. Is this type of exposure a danger to my family I have 3 children under 4 y/o. We are currently trying to sell the house so I would expect the exposure to only be around a year or so. Is the above exposure dangerous? If the previous owners were sloppy with their work which I suspect they were would vacuuming and using a carpet cleaning wet vac remove what they may have left in the carpet? I am an overly cautious parent and after reading some websites about fibgerglass have been close to sending my wife and kids to live with family out of fear of harming them. I haven`t noticed any of the symptoms that are supposed to be common, but they may just not be getting that much exposure all at once - they stay home no daycare so they are in the house 20 or so hours a day.

Thanks

Answer:

Hi,
In responding to others with this kind of question, the first thing I try to convey is the fact that the highest disease risk is often among workers who are handling or breathing an agent for long periods of time, in enclosed spaces, and in high concentrations. This is a general principle of exposure and is relevant to your situation.

The large number of mesothelioma (a rare form of cancer) cases associated with asbestos fibers that became obvious 30 years after World War II largely resulted from ship builders working in confined spaces wrapping asbestos insulation around pipes. The exposures were much higher than would be found in a residential or recreational setting. If you are not disturbing the insulation, it is unlikely there are many fibers being mobilized into the air. If you are concerned about what may be in the carpet in the basement, a careful, slow vacuuming with a HEPA (high efficiency particulate arrestor) equipped sweeper should eliminate most of the fibers.

The evidence for cancer resulting from fiberglass exposure is weaker than for asbestos - even animal models of inhalation exposure do not show much effect. I have pasted a paragraph from the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR is part of the CDC) below that should be reassuring to you. I have also included the web link to the entire piece.

I think the bottom line is that the health risks to your family are minimal. The potential for exposure will be reduced or eliminated if you take care not to disturb what is there - perhaps even covering the insulation with plastic or some other airtight barrier. Please let me know if you have further questions.

"Occupational exposure to synthetic vitreous fibers (fiberglass or similar products) has been associated with acute irritation of the skin, eyes, and upper respiratory tract. Possible health hazards from long-term exposure to airborne fibrous glass, rock wool, or slag wool include effects associated with occupational exposure to asbestos (lung scarring, lung cancer, and mesothelioma), but available evidence from epidemiologic and animal studies indicates that these materials are less potent than asbestos.

Epidemiologic studies of fibrous glass, rock wool, and slag wool workers provide no consistent evidence for increased risks of mortality from nonmalignant respiratory disease, lung cancer, or pleural mesothelioma. Lung tissue scarring, lung tumors, and mesotheliomas have been observed in rodents exposed to glass wool, rock wool, or slag wool fibers by intratracheal, intrapleural, or intraperitoneal administration, but these lesions were not observed in several studies of rodents exposed to glass wool fibers by inhalation.

Results from recent animal research suggest that glass wool, rock wool, and slag wool are less potent than asbestos in producing tissue scarring and tumors due, at least in part, to their relatively rapid rates of dissolution in lung tissue. At chronic exposure levels below currently recommended occupational exposure limits of 1 fiber/cc, elevated risks for developing nonmalignant or malignant respiratory disease are not expected."

http://www.nachi.org/fiberglass-insulation-history-hazards-alternatives.htm

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Response by:

J Mac Crawford, PhD, RN J Mac Crawford, PhD, RN
Clinical Associate Professor of Environmental Health Sciences
College of Public Health
The Ohio State University