Fiberglass and Lung Disease
When asbestos was found to be the cause of lung disease and mesothelioma, new regulations were implemented banning its use from new buildings. Its replacement, fiberglass, is now being considered equally harmful to those who are exposed to it in their workplace or home.
Unfortunately many years have passed, and many more people have fallen victim to lung disease, since the alarm bells were first rung warning of the dangers of fiberglass. The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) discovered that manmade mineral fibers such as fiberglass could create DNA damage, leading to chronic illness and cancer. Animal testing carried out in Switzerland found that fiberglass used in the aerospace industry can cause mesothelioma, an aggressive type of lung cancer previously associated with asbestos.
Rather than heeding the warning, Congress threatened to abolish NIOSH. They backed the research done by large suppliers and manufacturers of fiberglass insulation who claimed that fiberglass was safe. However this contradicts other findings including that of Dr Mearl Stanton of the National Cancer Institute who stated, "Asbestos causes cancer not because it is asbestos, but because it is a Respirable Durable Fiber (RDF). RDFs completely unrelated to asbestos such as fiberglass 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 and urea-formaldehyde resin. This certainly does not sound like something you would want to inhale into the lungs. Workers in manufacturing plants making rolls of insulation material are most at risk of exposure to these particles. Fiberglass is 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 these manufacturing plants, and many homes, schools and offices have fiberglass insulation in the roofspace, walls and ventilation ducts. While undisturbed it may not be giving off airborne particles, but if it is damaged, disturbed or removed, the particles will be released into the air in large quantities.
Why is Fiberglass Harmful to Health?
Fiberglass particles are almost invisible in the air. They may irritate the skin, eyes and nose, causing itching. If they are inhaled during breathing, particles may become trapped in the upper airway or inhaled deeper into the lungs. Coughing and sneezing is the body’s natural reaction to this foreign matter, but inevitably some fibers will embed themselves in the lung tissue or in the chest cavity. It can make conditions such as asthma more severe, and over time may cause lung cancer to develop, according to the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry.
Safety Precautions against Fiberglass Exposure
There are now guidelines in place for workers in the fiberglass industry but there are still many occasions when ordinary citizens may inadvertently be exposed to fiberglass particles. Unfortunately the damage may not be apparent for decades.
If you plan to do a home improvement project that involves any type of insulation removal or disturbance, call a professional to do the job. Live off the premises while the work is being carried out to avoid unnecessary exposure to asbestos or fiberglass particles. If you have to be in contact with insulating material, wear gloves, a ventilated breathing mask and eye protection to decrease exposure to these irritating fibers. Cover your body in clothing and fasten the cuffs of shirts and pants. Hang plastic sheets around the work zone and try to contain the airborne particles. It could save a life.