Fiberglass and Lung Disease

When asbestos was found to be the cause of lung disease and mesothelioma, new regulations were implemented banning its use fromnew buildings. Its replacement, fiberglass, is now being considered equallyharmful to those who are exposed to it in their workplace or home.

Unfortunately many years have passed, and many more people have fallen victimto lung disease, since the alarm bells were first rung warning of the dangers offiberglass. The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH)discovered that manmade mineral fibers such as fiberglass could create DNAdamage, leading to chronic illness and cancer. Animal testing carried out inSwitzerland found that fiberglass used in the aerospace industry can causemesothelioma, an aggressive type of lung cancer previously associated withasbestos.

Rather than heeding the warning, Congress threatened to abolish NIOSH. Theybacked the research done by large suppliers and manufacturers of fiberglassinsulation who claimed that fiberglass was safe. However this contradicts otherfindings including that of Dr Mearl Stanton of the National Cancer Institute whostated, "Asbestos causes cancer not because it is asbestos, but because it is aRespirable Durable Fiber (RDF). RDFs completely unrelated to asbestos such asfiberglass and rock wool are equally carcinogenic."

What is Fiberglass?

Fiberglass is made from small chards of glass created in furnaces and then coated with phenol-formaldehyde andurea-formaldehyde resin. This certainly does not sound like something you wouldwant to inhale into the lungs. Workers in manufacturing plants making rolls of insulation material are most at risk of exposure to these particles. Fiberglassis also used in cigarette filters and tiny shards can enter and cut the lungs,allowing nicotine to penetrate deeper into the lung tissue.

There are also high levels of fiberglass particles in areas around thesemanufacturing plants, and many homes, schools and offices have fiberglassinsulation in the roofspace, walls and ventilation ducts. While undisturbed itmay not be giving off airborne particles, but if it is damaged, disturbed orremoved, the particles will be released into the air in large quantities.

Why is Fiberglass Harmful to Health?

Fiberglass particlesare almost invisible in the air. They may irritate the skin, eyes and nose,causing itching. If they are inhaled during breathing, particles may becometrapped in the upper airway or inhaled deeper into the lungs. Coughing andsneezing is the body’s natural reaction to this foreign matter, but inevitablysome fibers will embed themselves in the lung tissue or in the chest cavity. Itcan make conditions such as asthma more severe, and over time may cause lungcancer to develop, according to the Agency for Toxic Substances and DiseaseRegistry.

Safety Precautions against Fiberglass Exposure

There arenow guidelines in place for workers in the fiberglass industry but there arestill many occasions when ordinary citizens may inadvertently be exposed tofiberglass particles. Unfortunately the damage may not be apparent for decades.

If you plan to do a home improvement project that involves any type ofinsulation removal or disturbance, call a professional to do the job. Live offthe premises while the work is being carried out to avoid unnecessary exposureto asbestos or fiberglass particles. If you have to be in contact withinsulating material, wear gloves, a ventilated breathing mask and eye protectionto decrease exposure to these irritating fibers. Cover your body in clothing andfasten the cuffs of shirts and pants. Hang plastic sheets around the work zoneand try to contain the airborne particles. It could save a life.


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