Asbestos is the name given to a group of minerals naturally occurring in the environment as bundles of fibers that can be separated into long, durable threads somewhat similar to fiberglass.
Asbestos fibers are very strong and are resistant to heat and chemicals. Because of these properties, asbestos fibers have been used in a wide range of products, mostly in building materials, friction products, and heat-resistant fabrics.
Asbestos becomes a problem when the fibers begin to break apart. The fibers are inhaled and, after a period of time, cause cause cancer and chronic lung conditions.
Although the use of asbestos and asbestos products has dramatically decreased in recent years, they are still found in many residential and commercial settings and continue to pose a health risk to workers and others.
Below you will find more information on asbestos and exposure risks, way to protect yourself and other helpful resources.
Exposure to Asbestos
Asbestos has also been used in a wide range of manufactured goods, mostly in building materials (roofing shingles, ceiling and floor tiles, paper products, and asbestos cement products), friction products (automobile clutch, brake, and transmission parts), heat-resistant fabrics, packaging, gaskets, and coatings.
Asbestos may be found in:
- Attic and wall insulation produced containing vermiculite
- Vinyl floor tiles and the backing on vinyl sheet flooring and adhesives
- Roofing and siding shingles
- Textured paint and patching compounds used on wall and ceilings
- Walls and floors around wood-burning stoves protected with asbestos paper, millboard, or cement sheets
- Hot water and steam pipes coated with asbestos material or covered with an asbestos blanket or tape
- Oil and coal furnaces and door gaskets with asbestos insulation
- Heat-resistant fabrics
- Automobile clutches and brakes
People who are exposed to asbestos from working in factories, shipyards, mining operations, and other industries have greater risks for breathing high levels of asbestos fibers then others.
Other ways you may be exposed to asbestos include:
- Inhaling tiny asbestos fibers suspended in air;
- Inhaling degraded asbestos containing products that have broken down (e.g. insulation, ceiling and floor tiles, roof shingles, cement, automobile brakes and clutches);
- Being near a building being torn down or renovated that contains asbestos fibers; or
- Close proximity to a waste site that is not properly covered up or stored to protect it from wind erosion.
Risks to Human Health
Exposure to asbestos increases your risk of developing lung disease, including:
- lung cancer;
- mesothelioma, a cancer of the lining of the chest and the abdominal cavity; and
- asbestosis, a condition in which the lungs become scarred with fibrous tissue.
Asbestos disease usually occurs long after initial exposure from 20 to 50 years after. That risk is made worse by smoking.
Asbestos-related conditions can be difficult to identify. Healthcare providers usually identify the possibility of asbestos exposure and related health conditions like lung disease by taking a thorough medical history. This includes looking at the person’s medical, work, cultural and environmental history.
After a doctor suspects an asbestos-related health condition, he or she can use a number of tools to help make the actual diagnosis. Some of these tools are physical examination, chest x-ray and pulmonary function tests. Your doctor may also refer you to a specialist who treats diseases caused by asbestos.
Asbestos in the Home
Asbestos-containing materials that are not damaged or disturbed are not likely to pose a health risk. Usually the best thing is to leave asbestos-containing material alone if it is in good condition.
Generally, you can’t tell whether a material contains asbestos simply by looking at it, unless it is labeled. If in doubt, do not touch or disturb it.
You may want to have your home inspected for asbestos-containing materials by a trained asbestos professional, especially if you are planning to remodel your home or your home has damaged building materials (like crumbling drywall and insulation that is falling apart)
To protect yourself and your family, follow these tips:
- Avoid damaging asbestos-containing material and leave undamaged asbestos-containing materials alone.
- Keep activities to a minimum in any areas having damaged material that may contain asbestos, including limiting children’s access to any materials that may contain asbestos.
- Hire people trained and qualified in handling asbestos to handle removal and major repair. Any sampling or minor repair should also be done by a professional.
- Don’t track material that could contain asbestos through the house. If you cannot avoid walking through the area, have it cleaned with a wet mop. If the material is from a damaged area or if a large area must be cleaned, call an asbestos professional.