A new study suggests that home insulation is more effective at preventing asbestos-related illnesses in people with mild to moderate forms of the disease than standard home construction materials.
The new research, published in the journal Occupational and Environmental Medicine, says that standard building materials have a better ability to absorb asbestos than insulation that washes out onsite or from a commercial home.
In addition, the researchers found that insulation that’s chemically treated and protected against moisture and acid can provide the same protection to people with moderate to severe forms of asbestos-associated disease.
The research was funded by the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases and the National Institutes of Health.
“I think we’ve made progress in the last few years, and I think the science is beginning to catch up,” said researcher Mark W. Ruppelt, a professor of structural engineering and of engineering at the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign.
“But this is not just about asbestos.”
The researchers found a strong correlation between the degree of resistance to both moisture and chemical corrosion and how effectively a home was protected against it.
For people with moderately severe forms, home insulation had the best protection against the disease, but not as much protection against it as insulation that had been treated with chemical or biological inhibitors.
“If you are not taking advantage of the chemical inhibitors, you’re not doing as good of a job protecting your home,” Ruppel said.
The researchers say the most effective home insulation was found in an area with a high concentration of residential buildings, with more than 20 percent of all homes constructed in the United States being constructed from asbestos.
The study also found that the most cost-effective method of preventing asbestos from accumulating in homes was to apply the same kind of chemical treatment to the insulation as the building it was to, and that home insulating materials were the most protective.
The finding was also supported by a study published last year that found the best way to prevent the spread of asbestos is to limit exposure to the toxin by building the insulation and removing it from the building site, rather than installing the building as a barrier.
That study, published by the American Journal of Respiratory and Critical Care Medicine, found that using chemical or physical barriers to limit the spread and damage of asbestos in a home reduced the chances of the toxin being spread by inhalation.
It also suggested that building a barrier in the same building that is used to store asbestos-containing materials also reduces the risk of exposure.
“The results were surprising and we’re excited about it,” Raffelt said.
While some home insulation manufacturers claim they’re not aware of any studies showing the benefits of chemical or chemical-treated home insulation, Ruppels findings suggest that the current standard of protection is not sufficient.
“There’s no way you’re going to protect people in their homes with this kind of treatment,” he said.
“This is a disease-causing toxin that can actually make you sick.”
The National Institute on Dental and Craniofacial Diseases and Associated Health Care Organizations and the University Hospitals of Colorado have conducted similar studies on home insulation.
Raffel and his colleagues are currently reviewing the published research and working to replicate their results.
If you have an urgent question about asbestos or your home, please call the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey at 1-800-255-3300.