In this blog, we are talking about protecting pets from asbestos.
The health risks derived from exposure to asbestos are well known - for employers, just the mere utterance of the word is enough to cause heart palpitations - not to mention compliance with the multitude of responsibilities and duties enshrined in law that all employers must abide by.
Strange then, that there is so little emphasis or thought given to those around us once we get home from a hard days’ work.
There are many routes of exposure to asbestos for us humans when at work - even if our duties don’t directly involve handling or working with it. For example, if your workplace was built before the year 2000, the chances are that there is at least one place where asbestos may be hiding (see our guide to identifying asbestos in the workplace).
If you’re a maintenance person, or in the building or demolition trade there is a moderate to high likelihood that you’re exposed to asbestos from time to time, and if you’re in the asbestos management industry there is an even greater risk.
(This is all assuming that you or your employer are doing a poor job of managing asbestos at work - in which case, hello…)
So, what happens when you finish work for the day, do the long or short commute (if you’re lucky) and arrive home to be greeted by your furry friends who have been missing you all day?
Hopefully, the worst that’ll happen is you’ll receive an aggressive lick or a scratchy paw to the chest (less likely if you keep goldfish, granted).
If protecting pets from asbestos falls low on your priority list you could be bringing the deadly fibres into your home where it will float around perpetually until being breathed in by yourself, your loved ones and your pets.
Another route of exposure is through ingestion, particularly if your pet licks you or areas around the home where asbestos fibres have settled.
The impact of this is the same as if a human was exposed to asbestos. Mesothelioma, aka lung cancer, is often found in dogs (less prevalent in cats). Symptoms vary depending on the type of mesothelioma, however, include rapid and shallow breathing, loss of energy, coughing, abdominal discomfort, swelling or vomiting, an enlarged scrotum or unusual sounds in the abdomen or chest.
Unfortunately, a diagnosis of mesothelioma in pets is normally made after any remedial action can take place - the damage is already done. Plus, without an NHS for pets, any vets’ bills will be very costly.
As you will be now have gathered, protecting pets from asbestos is a genuine concern that should be taken seriously.
Now you know the importance of protecting pets from asbestos, there are actions that you can take.
As with your workplace, if your home was built before 2000 there is high likelihood that asbestos may be found within the fabric and finishes of the building - for example in floor tiles, water pipes, wall boards, textured ceiling tiles, window putty, cement, plaster, roof tiles… the list goes on.
So, if you’re having any renovations or remedial work carried out on your home, putting measures in place to prevent or control asbestos release should be high on your agenda (not least for protecting yourself and your family too).
While we can wear PPE such as sealed overalls, gloves and boots, goggles, and respiratory protection, our pets can’t. Therefore, the best thing to do is to take them out of the home during periods where asbestos may be disturbed – try to find an understanding friend or a trustworthy kennel or cattery.
Other things you should aim to do are to seal off the work area (tape up doors and replace others with sealable sheet openings) and, crucially, clean up afterwards. If you think there is a risk that you may disturb asbestos, damp down the area before drilling or cutting through the possible ACMs (asbestos containing materials). You could also extract any dust at source using a HEPA filter-equipped vacuum system.
When you clean up, wear PPE and don’t sweep any of the debris wherever possible - and again, use a vacuum system equipped with a HEPA filter.
The home isn’t the only place where our pets may be exposed to asbestos. Pets, particularly cats or dogs, that are exercised outside or spend periods of time in a yard are at risk. Areas undergoing demolition or building work must be avoided, as well as brownfield sites (where asbestos containing debris may have been dumped) or mines.
If you have a pet at work, it should be protected by virtue of your other controls derived from employers’ duties to manage asbestos. However, it is worth ensuring any potential asbestos exposures are controlled and monitored day to day; particularly if your premises contains ACMs such as cement walls, roofs, or drains which may be damaged if hit by mobile plant or falling objects.
As we’ve established, urban areas present a greater risk of asbestos exposure for your pets. Rural areas however are also potential sources of asbestos exposure. One particularly upsetting case in the UK involved a couples’ pet dog sniffing debris that had been fly-tipped from building sites within their local woods. The debris contained asbestos, and the dog developed mesothelioma. Despite the best efforts of their vet, the dog heartbreakingly died.
While it may appear drastic, a good practice would be to only exercise your pets in areas that you know to be safe or, like a good workplace safety rep, assess the level of risk and act accordingly. If you’re walking in new or unfamiliar environments which may involve accessing farmland, or close to old or derelict buildings, it’s possible that there is an asbestos risk that should be avoided.
As with any potential illness in your pet, if you observe any unusual symptoms or behaviour in your dog or cat, you should take them to the vet straight away.
If you think your pet may have been exposure to asbestos, inform your vet in order to facilitate a thorough diagnosis. This will involve a physical examination and likely a blood and urine analysis, followed by imaging tests such as an x-ray and then a biopsy to remove fluid or tissue for further examination.
While research into cancer treatments that may slow the progression of the cancer has been carried out (with some success), unfortunately most of the treatment available for an animal with mesothelioma is aimed at keeping them comfortable and may include medications for pain as well as procedures to drain fluid from the abdomen or chest cavity.
As you will have gathered from this article, there is no legal mandate to protect pets from asbestos. However, no-one likes to see an animal suffer, particularly one that is part of their family.
Protecting animals from asbestos is more complicated than protecting humans (you can tell a human not to lick a pile of dumped building waste and chances are they’ll follow your instruction) however, as with anything to do with safety management, it’s not impossible particularly if you understand the risks, and take pragmatic and effective steps to manage them. As ever, if you need advice or assistance in carrying out your preventative measures to protect pets from asbestos, please get in touch.