What is Asbestos?
Asbestos are naturally occuring silicate mineral fibers found in rock and soil that can be separated into fibers and pulled into a fluffy consistency. Asbestos is not a single type of mineral — rather, it refers to a group of silicate minerals that share the same fibrous nature. There are several kinds of asbestos fibers, all of which are fire resistant and not easily destroyed or degraded by natural processes, making them strong, durable and resistant to heat, electricity, fire and chemical corrosion. They are also long, thin and flexible, so that they can even be woven into cloth, because of these qualities, asbestos has been used in thousands of consumer, industrial, maritime, automotive, scientific and building products. During the twentieth century, some 30 million tons of asbestos had been used in industrial sites, homes, schools, shipyards and commercial buildings in the United States. There are several types of asbestos fibers, of which three have been used for commercial applications: (1) Chrysotile, or white asbestos, comes mainly from Canada, and has been very widely used in the US. It is white-gray in color and found in serpentine rock. (2) Amosite, or brown asbestos, comes from southern Africa. (3) Crocidolite, or blue asbestos, comes from southern Africa and Australia.
Is Asbestos dangerous?
Microscopic asbestos fibers cannot be seen, smelled or tasted, and asbestos exposure does not cause immediate symptoms, so it is easy for a person to inhale or swallow asbestos dust without realizing it. Once asbestos fibers are in the body, they never dissolve and the body has extreme difficulty expelling them. Over years of time, trapped asbestos fibers can cause inflammation, scarring and eventually genetic damage to the body’s cells. Asbestos generally has the worst effects when a person is exposed to an intense concentration of it or they are exposed on a regular basis over a long period of time.
Asbestos fibers most often accumulate in lung tissue and in the membrane lining the lungs called the pleura. Benign asbestos-related diseases include asbestosis, pleuritis and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), which make it difficult for patients to breathe. Asbestos has been shown to cause cancer of the lung and stomach according to studies of workers and others exposed to asbestos. There is no level of exposure to asbestos fibers that experts can assure is completely safe. After many years cancer or mesothelioma can develop. Asbestos also causes malignant diseases such as lung cancer, pleural mesothelioma and peritoneal mesothelioma, and it is the #1 cause of occupational cancer in the world.
Are all products with Asbestos a health risk?
No. Asbestos fibers can pose a risk to health if airborne, as inhalation is the main way that asbestos enters the body. Most people are exposed to very small amounts of asbestos as they go about their daily lives and do not develop asbestos-related health problems.
Do all people exposed to Asbestos develop Asbestos related disease?
No. Most people exposed to small amounts of asbestos do not develop any related health problems. Finding that your home or workplace is made from fibro products does not mean your health is at risk. Studies have shown that these products, if in sound condition and left undisturbed, are not a significant health risk. If the asbestos fibres remain firmly bound in cement, generally you do not need to remove the fibro.
What are Asbestos containing products?
What is common to many asbestos-containing products is that they were (are) used to contain heat (i.e. thermal insulation.) This was the main reason for their use. It is impossible to list all of the products that have, at one time or another, contained asbestos. One of the most common products asbestos is found in, is in the insulation material found on heating pipes and ducts of homes built before 1960.
Some of the other common asbestos-containing products are insulating cement, insulating block, asbestos cloth, gaskets, packing materials, thermal seals, refractory and boiler insulation materials, transite board, asbestos cement pipe, fireproofing spray, joint compound, vinyl floor tile, ceiling tile, mastics, adhesives, coatings, acoustical textures, duct & pipe insulation for heating, ventilation and air conditioning (HVAC) systems, roofing products, insulated electrical wire and panels, and brake and clutch assemblies.
How can I tell if I have Asbestos in my home?
People who have frequently worked with asbestos (such as plumbers, building contractors or heating contractors) often are able to make a reasonable judgment about whether or not a material contains asbestos on a visual inspection. Many professional home inspectors also can make a reasonable visual judgment. To be absolutely certain, an industrial hygienist would have to make the identification.
What if Asbestos is found in my home?
In most cases, asbestos containing materials are best left alone – especially if it is in good condition and will not be disturbed.
When it is necessary to disturb asbestos, you should contact a licensed asbestos abatement contractor. You can also obtain a copy of Asbestos in the Home published by the US Consumer Products Safety Commission (800-638-2772) which discusses the situation and makes recommendations. Remember, do not dust, sweep, or vacuum particles suspected of containing asbestos fibers