What Is Asbestos?
Asbestos-containing material became a high profile public concern after federal legislation known as AHERA (Asbestos Hazard Emergency Response Act) was enacted in 1987. AHERA requires that all schools be inspected for asbestos-containing building materials, and that appropriate management plans be developed.
Based on available data, the average airborne asbestos levels in buildings seem to be very low. It is known that asbestos fibers increase the risk of lung cancer and other respiratory tract diseases. If the asbestos-containing material is damaged and friable (which means that it crumbles under hand pressure) then it is advisable to have the asbestos-containing material abated. If the asbestos-containing material is not friable (for example, vinyl asbestos floor tiles or asbestos shingle siding) or is friable but undamaged, then the EPA currently recommends that you leave the asbestos-containing material alone.
Abatement of asbestos-containing material means that is should be repaired, removed, enclosed, or included in an Operations and Maintenance plan. Repair, removal, or enclosure of asbestos-containing material should only be performed by trained and licensed asbestos abatement contractors. A general contractor’s license is not sufficient. Asbestos abatement contractors have to be specifically trained in asbestos handling and disposal procedures. Any Operations and Maintenance plan should be prepared by a trained and licensed asbestos management planner.
EPA Facts About Asbestos
The above photo shows a typical asbestos insulated heating pipe found in older homes.
During the twentieth century, some 30 million tons of asbestos have 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.
Where would I find asbestos in my home?
It is unusual to find asbestos products in homes built after 1975. Prior to 1975 we found 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.
Is Asbestos Dangerous?
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. Some asbestos materials can break into small fibers which can float in the air and these fibers can be inhaled. The tiny fibers are so small they can not be seen with the naked eye. They can pass through the filters of normal vacuum cleaners and get back into the air. Once inhaled, asbestos fibers can become lodged in tissue for a long time. After many years cancer or mesothelioma can develop.
Are All products With Asbestos A Health Risk?
No. A health risk exists only when asbestos fibers are released from the material or product. Soft, easily crumbled asbestos containing material has the greatest potential for asbestos release and therefore has the greatest potential to create health risks.
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. Health studies of asbestos workers and others, however, show that the chances of developing some serious illnesses, included lung cancer, are greater after exposure to asbestos.
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.
If Asbestos Is Found In My Home, What Should I Do?
In most cases, asbestos containing materials are best left alone.
When it is necessary to disturb asbestos, you should contact a licensed asbestos contractor. You can also obtain a copy of Asbestos in the Home published by the U.S. 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.