What is asbestos?
Asbestos is a naturally occurring mineral formed of very strong bers that are resistant to heat and corrosion. There are several kinds of asbestos. Individual asbestos bers are so small and light that they cannot be seen with the naked eye and can easily become airborne.
Where has asbestos been used?
Asbestos has been used for a wide range of manufactured goods and building materials. The amount of asbestos in asbestos containing materials (ACM) varies from greater than 1% to 100%. Examples of products that might contain asbestos are:
- reproo ng and insulation in buildings
- insulation for pipes and boilers
- roo ng shingles and tars
- plaster, wallboard and joint compound
- putties, caulks, paints, and cements
- oor and ceiling tiles
- friction products, such as clutch facings and brake linings in vehicles
Some vermiculite products, widely used in insulation applications, may also contain asbestos. When ACM can easily be crumbled by hand pressure, it is called “friable” asbestos. Friable ACM is the type of greatest concern because it can easily release bers into the air. As the binders (such as plaster and cement) that hold asbestos bers in place deteriorate, are damaged or are disturbed, the likelihood of ber release increases. ACM that is likely to be friable includes reproo ng on structural beams, sprayed-on ceiling texture or insulation, thermal pipe insulation and troweled-on plaster or acoustical insulation. You cannot tell whether a material contains asbestos by looking at it. A sample must be analyzed by a quali ed laboratory.
What are the health effects?
Breathing high levels of asbestos bers can lead to an increased risk of lung cancer, mesothelioma (a cancer of the chest and abdominal linings) and asbestosis (irreversible lung scarring that can be fatal). The risk of lung cancer and mesothelioma increases with the number of bers inhaled. Most people with asbestos-related diseases were exposed to high concentrations on the job.
Are any types of asbestos safe?
No. Although there are indications that some types of asbestos may be more dangerous than others, asbestos-related disease can be caused by all types of asbestos. However, ACM in good condition or encapsulated (contained within a sealant) generally does not pose a health hazard.
Is there any safe level of asbestos exposure?
There is no known safe level of exposure to asbestos. Any exposure can cause illness.