What Is Asbestos?
Asbestos is a mineral fiber found in rocks, of naturally occurring silicate minerals that can be
separated into fibers. There are several kinds of asbestos fibers, all of which are fire resistant
and not easily destroyed or degraded by natural processes. The fibers are strong, durable, and
resistant to heat and fire. 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 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.
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.
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.
If Asbestos Is Found In My Home, What Should I Do?
In most cases, asbestos containing materials are best left alone.