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Asbestos or ??
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Asbestos or ??

Four years ago I had a hole in my ceiling that a lot of white dust came out of.  A year later I had shortness of breath, and some itching. Six months after that had a lot of respiratory problems, phlegm, flu-like symptoms, and pain in my chest.  I moved and after several months these symptoms became less.  Recently I moved and brought several boxes out of storage from the place with the hole in the ceiling.  I became itchy, my eyes began to burn, and one night after playing soccer with some friends, my chest ached and the skin around my chest burned like it had previously.  This is quite severe, has lasted now for weeks, and is only now fading.  I hired people to clean my place, which helped but I still have burning eyes, chest pain, and burning. The chest pain is worst around the bottom of my lungs (where my doctor says they are) but also below my shoulders where the skin sort of burns. My hands also itch, they feel irritated, and my eyes burn.  Recently, I noticed that in very bright sun things from in my place show tiny sparkles.... I cannot find anyone who will test small amounts of dust for asbestos... but based on all of this - including the white dust and the sparkling - it seems like it must be asbestos to me.  My doctor says that asbestos would not cause these effects so fast and says my chest x-ray is normal. She says the dust cannot possibly be seen though she puzzles over my symptoms and has no answer.  Can you tell me if there can be short-term effects of asbestos (like this) and if the sparkling of asbestos can sometimes be seen in bright sunlight.  My son who was a baby through all of this would have been exposed too.  I am worried.  
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Avatar_n_tn
Hello Rob_in_Montreal,

I am neither a health care professional nor an authority. But perhaps you might find the following ideas somewhat helpful nonetheless...

You might want to consider the possibility that your ailment could be fiberglass poisoning.  I understand that fiberglass dust can cause itchy skin and respiratory problems.

As for whether it might be asbestos:  
I was recently trying to determine whether asbestos exposure can cause itchy skin (this is how I happened upon your question).  Some material on the internet indicates that it definitely does; other material claims that it cannot; such uncertainty is frustrating.  As for visibility, I disagree with your doctor's assumption that asbestos dust would not be visible.  Asbestos is a mineral (a "rock") which "flakes off" into skinny fibers.  Each of these fibers can itself flake into thinner fibers, with the thinnest fibers being hundreds of times thinner than a human hair.  It is true that the most harmful sized particles to breathe are the ones which are too thin to be visible.  However I see no reason why you couldn't be seeing the bigger, less harmful asbestos particles floating around, and at the same time be breathing the smaller more harmful invisible particles that are floating along with those bigger particles.  

As for whether it might be fiberglass:
Fiberglass dust would also be visible. Unlike with asbestos, fiberglass fibers don't split into thinner and thinner fibers.  Fiberglass can cause itchy skin and respiratory problems.  Search the web to find out more about fiberglass poisoning; there are some informative sites out there.  I would not expect the fiberglass dust to be white, however. (I suppose it is conceivable that there was fiberglass in the space above the ceiling along with whatever that white stuff was.)

How to find out for certain:
There are environmental testing laboratories which can test the dust for you.  I once mailed one of these labs a some dust I wanted to test for asbestos, and it only cost around $30 US.  Check on the web for companies that do this and for instructions on how to take the sample.  Never break off a sample of anything that might contain asbestos or do anything else that might stir up asbestos dust into the air.  It might be possible to wipe up some dust from something in one of your boxes or even from the old aparment itself.  But be sure to follow the companies' websites for instructions on safe sampling procedures!  If you want to get really fancy, you might be able to hire somone to go to the apartment and take an air sample that could be tested.  That would cost more.

Finally, if you're not getting anywhere with the doctors I have heard that public health or occupational health specialists may be the most knowledgeable individuals to consult regarding this type of ailment.

Good luck, and hang in there!
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Avatar_n_tn
Incidentally, the prickly sensation on my skin turned out to be a dust mite allergy, surprisingly.  This brings up another possibility for you.  Allergies can manifest either as irritated skin (itchy, burning, and or prickly), respiratory problems (including irritated throat and chest / lungs), irritated eyes (including burning), mucous production, or any combination of these.  In fact, the same person may react differently to different allergens, so even if what you are experiencing doesn't feel like other allergies you have, it still could be an allergy.  Perhaps there was some invisible mold or dust mites that was piggy-backing on your old appartment dust?  (And if it is dust mites, washing your clothes won't help because the dust mites cling to the clothes.  You would need to kill the mites first by soaking your clothes in water that you heated on the stove to above 140 degrees - this is hotter than the hot water in your faucet gets.  You would also need to kill the mites that are hanging out in the washing machine by running an empty load with a lot of bleach.  This probably is not relevant for you, but it sure solved my mystery.)  I hope you solve your mystery soon.
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Avatar_m_tn
Hi Rob,
I agree that your doctor is wrong about the visibility of asbestos.  I've had a startlingly similar set of symptoms together with the observation of a lot of sparkly dust.  This began when we moved into a new house which had been disturbed by builders prior to settlement.  The insulation in the house is fibreglass but there is a significant amount of asbestos insulation board in the property.  I went round with a torch at night and observed a lot of sparkly stuff underneath a water damaged asbestos eave soffit.  There was also a lot of sparkly stuff in a hole I dug for an apple tree, in which I'd found old bits of asbestos cement.  I've also observed similar (somewhere between glitter and glass in quality) at the base of an asbestos fence I removed some time ago. What you have isn't necessarily asbestos but it's obviously affecting your health.  The best remedies are using a HEPA filter vacuum if you can get hold of one,  disposing of soft materials in which the material is likely to lodge, unless they're very important to you, in which case a few washes (NOT with the rest of your things) should do it.  In the past I've also used clear packing tape on surfaces- it lifts off any fibres that aren't well and truly stuck.  I'm afraid it's all a bit painstaking, but does help. Don't get obsessional, but don't let anyone tell you that you aren't experiencing what you are.  I have come across other anecdotal evidence that some people are affected by asbestos exposure. in an immediate way, and this is certainly my experience.  One man had a lot of testing done- he was exposed to too much asbestos in a basement (this was verified by air testing), had burning chest pain that persisted, and it was found that he had an overreactive immune system which seemed to be contributing to his response. Perhaps the good news is that if you are a sensitive individual you may be reacting badly to a level of exposure that is quite common, and that many other people wouldn't notice.    
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