The Mesothelioma + Asbestos Awareness Center brings attention to the dangers of asbestos and the deadly form of cancer it causes: mesothelioma. We are an independent group working to help mesothelioma patients, caregivers, advocates and others looking to learn more about the disease.
As restaurant owners and managers, you no doubt often stress the importance of kitchen cleanliness to our employees. These tasks can range from simple actions like ensuring all employees wash their hands before handling food to regularly cleaning all kitchen equipment. It’s your job to make sure the food your guests eat is, of course, delicious, but safe too.
But what about less obvious health hazards in the kitchen that could impact your health and the health of your employees?
The first week of April is recognized as Global Asbestos Awareness Week, and offers an opportunity for restaurant owners and managers to understand the hazards of the toxin and where it might be hiding within your kitchen.
What exactly is asbestos and where is it found?
Asbestos is a naturally occurring mineral that saw heavy use between the 1940s and 1980, and was once highly valued for both its durability and heat-resistant qualities. Although the mineral is commonly associated with construction and shipbuilding, many companies also integrated the material into common consumer items ranging from stove mats and oven mitts to commercial ovens and even coffee machines. Being mindful of where asbestos is likely present may help prevent possible exposure.
Restaurants built or renovated during the mid-20th century have a good chance of containing the toxic mineral. Asbestos can be found in insulation, wallpaper, floor/ceiling tiles, and adhesives, among other products often used in older kitchens. To determine if the these materials may contain asbestos, consider the date of manufacture as well as the producer (if that information is available).
Below is a partial list of wall tiles commonly found in older kitchens that have been known to contain asbestos:
- Flintkote Ceiling Tiles
- National Gypsum Gold Bond Ceiling Tiles and Panels
- Owens-Corning Fiberglass Ceiling Tiles
- United States Gypsum Ceiling Tile
In recent years, new wall tiles have again posed an asbestos exposure risk to consumers. A number of wall tile products appearing on the market contain tremolite, a type of asbestos. Tremolite is found in many mineral-based products, including wall tiles produced in China. The tiles were discovered to contain asbestos in Australian building supply stores under the “Snow White” brand name.
The only way to be sure whether a material in your kitchen might contain asbestos is have the area tested. If you see chipped or damaged ceiling or floor tiles, have them inspected by a properly trained and accredited professional. Any damage caused to asbestos-containing materials during renovations could lead to serious health complications.
Asbestos and Your Health
If you’ve recently invested in a restaurant with an older kitchen, it is important to inspect the space for asbestos before proceeding with repairs and renovations. If asbestos is damaged, toxic fibers may become airborne. It is easy to inhale or ingest asbestos fibers without realizing it, because the particles are invisible and have no smell or taste. If consumed, the rigid fibers may become lodged in the linings of internal organs, causing inflammation, scarring and even cancer, such as mesothelioma.
Roughly 3,000 people are diagnosed with mesothelioma in the United States each year. Unfortunately, symptoms can take 20 to 50 years to appear after the first exposure to asbestos. Furthermore, symptoms of mesothelioma are similar to other less serious diseases, which often leads to misdiagnosis.
Common symptoms of mesothelioma include:
- Trouble breathing or chest pain
- Fluid buildup in the lungs or abdomen
- Anemia (especially in women)
- Nausea and vomiting
- Weight loss
Because symptoms are often misdiagnosed and do not normally appear until later stages of the cancer, life expectancy is usually poor.
Whether you recently purchased a restaurant with an older kitchen or the restaurant you have owned for years needs some repairs, take time this April to check for hidden toxins like asbestos. By staying mindful of what materials may contain asbestos, you are safeguarding the health of yourself, your employees, and your business.
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