Living with asbestos is a reality for many who reside in older homes, but with containment, covering and sealing -- or encapsulation -- or removal by a professional, the risk of harmful exposure is low [source: EPA]. A joint paper by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) and the American Lung Association (ALA) summarizes the health risks as being greatest for those with heavy exposure in factory settings or those involved in demolition work, mining and milling. Those exposed to small amounts in ordinary life are a lot less likely to develop health problems [sources: CPSC, EPA]. In fact, the best thing to do with asbestos material in good condition is to leave it alone [source: CPSC].
Some individuals exposed to asbestos never develop health problems, but as many as 200 people are diagnosed with mesothelioma linked to asbestos in the United States each year [source: EPA]. Lung cancer and asbestosis, which is mostly fatal, is considered a high-exposure outcome for those who breathed in prolonged and significant amounts of asbestos [source: EPA]. And the EPA emphasizes that asbestos-related lung cancer is much lower for the general population and asbestosis is "rarely caused by neighborhood or family exposure" [source: EPA].
Most people in the United States can breathe a sigh of relief that asbestos contact will be minimal if asbestos in their home is left undisturbed or left to the professionals to remove or contain.