Most people have heard of asbestos and make a connection between it and serious health consequences of some kind. But here’s a piece of good news: according to Dr. Ken Takahashi, Director of the Asbestos Diseases Research Institute, asbestos-related disease is 100 percent preventable.
Understanding the basics about asbestos – what it is, where it’s found, why it’s dangerous, and more – is vital to ensuring that you and your family avoid asbestos exposure. Here are some frequently asked questions about asbestos to get you started.
FAQs about Asbestos in the Home and Workplace
What is asbestos?
Asbestos is a group of six naturally occurring minerals composed of soft, flexible, heat-resistant fibers. The six types of asbestos are chrysotile, actinolite, amosite, anthophyllite, crocidolite, and tremolite. Chrysotile fibers are long, curly, and pliable (serpentine family). The other five types are short, straight, sharp, and stiff (ambhibole family). Chrysotile is the most commonly used form of asbestos.
Where is asbestos found naturally?
Asbestos is found as a naturally occurring deposit around the world. In the U.S. asbestos deposits are located mainly in the western and eastern coastal states. The minerals must be mined in a process known as open-pit mining in order to remove the earth’s top layer and access the mineral.
What products contain asbestos?
Because of its natural strength and fire resistance, asbestos was used widely in products such as insulation, cement, floor tiles, ceiling tiles, drywall (sheetrock), adhesives, auto parts, and shingles. Further, certain occupations have put workers at risk of repeated asbestos exposure. Some of these occupations include the manufacturing of raw asbestos, working with materials containing the mineral, working in buildings with asbestos containing materials, working in the construction field, firefighting, working in a power plant, and working in a shipyard.
When is asbestos dangerous?
Asbestos containing material is not generally considered to be harmful unless it is released into the air where the dust and fibers can be inhaled or ingested. Many of the fibers become trapped in the mucous membranes of the nose and throat where they may be removed, but with repeated exposure some may pass deep into the lungs or into the digestive tract. Once the fibers are trapped in the body, they can cause health problems. Typically, asbestos containing materials are not dangerous unless they become damaged or disturbed in some way, such as during a renovation project.
What are the most common health problems associated with asbestos?
There are three primary diseases associated with asbestos exposure: asbestosis, mesothelioma, and lung cancer. Asbestosis is a serious, chronic, non-cancerous respiratory disease. Fibers lodged in the lungs aggravate the tissues and cause scarring, which can lead to mutations and even potentially to cancer. Mesothelioma is a rare form of cancer most often occurring in the thin membrane lining of the lungs, chest, abdomen, and (rarely) heart. This cancer is exclusively associated with asbestos exposure. Finally, lung cancer causes the largest number of deaths related to asbestos exposure. The incidence of lung cancer in people who are directly involved in the mining, milling, manufacturing, and use of asbestos and its products is much higher than in the general population. People who have been exposed to asbestos and are also exposed to some other carcinogen (such as cigarette smoke) have a significantly greater risk of developing lung cancer than people who have only been exposed to asbestos.
If asbestos is so dangerous, why was it used so widely?
Asbestos gained popularity during the Industrial Revolution because of its insulative properties for hot things like turbines, steam pipes, ovens, and brake and clutch linings. Asbestos mining reached a peak during the late 1960s and early 1970s. However, once the dangers of repeated exposure became broadly known, production of asbestos containing materials gradually decreased. The last asbestos mine in the U.S. closed in 2002.
Is asbestos still used in manufactured products today?
Asbestos is not fully banned in the U.S. and can still be imported under certain heavily regulated conditions. However, other countries (such as Russia) continue to mine the mineral.
How do I know if there is asbestos in my home?
In homes built prior to the 1980s, its best to assume that asbestos containing materials are present. If your home is in good condition and you are not planning on renovation projects, chances for exposure are low. However, an inspection by a trained, certified, and experienced professional will put your mind at ease. They can locate any asbestos in your home and determine how to proceed safely.
How can I remain safe from asbestos exposure at my workplace?
Asbestos is highly regulated by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). Worker exposure to asbestos hazards is addressed in specific OSHA standards for the construction industry, general industry, and shipyard employment sectors. Since there are no safe levels of asbestos exposure, it is essential to follow the established safety protocols and wear required personal protective equipment.
Be safe by being informed. If you work in an industry that handles asbestos or asbestos containing materials, make sure you follow health and safety requirements at work. If you are planning a renovation in your home, or have already started renovating, Paragon can remove any asbestos. We follow strict OSHA, EPA and CDPHE guidelines. Give us a call at 303-529-1257.