What Is Asbestos? How Are You Exposed?

Welder working with a metal structure

Have you ever wondered what asbestos is or why it is dangerous? Do you know how you might be exposed to it? Paragon, an asbestos abatement company in the Denver area, provides a basic understanding of this naturally occurring material to help you avoid accidental exposure and potentially dangerous consequences.

What Is Asbestos?

Asbestos is a commercial term that describes a group of silicate minerals composed of long, flexible fibers. It is most commonly found in three rock types: serpentinites, altered ultramafic rock, and some mafic rocks. It is located throughout the world in countries such as China and Russia, and throughout the United States. The heaviest concentrations in the U.S. are located along the eastern and western states. You can access maps showing specific locations here.

Because it naturally possesses highly effective fire resistance capabilities, it was widely mined and used in structures built between 1920 and 1975. It can be found in products such as insulation, linoleum and vinyl flooring, plaster, siding, roofing materials, caulking, and more. After 1975, asbestos mining and manufacturing became highly regulated. However, older homes and buildings are likely to contain multiple instances of its use.

Is Asbestos Always Hazardous? The mere presence of asbestos is not necessarily dangerous. Asbestos becomes a health hazard when it is disturbed or if it is deteriorating due to age or damage. When disturbed, the tiny fibers become airborne and can be inhaled. The fibers lodge in the lungs and along the respiratory tract where they are trapped. Over time, especially in cases of long-term exposure, delicate tissues develop scarring and cellular damage. There is no way to reverse the damage, and in most cases, symptoms do not appear for many years.

The most common diseases associated with asbestos exposure are mesothelioma, lung cancers, asbestosis, and several lung diseases. Mesothelioma is a type of lung cancer almost exclusively linked to asbestos. All of these diseases are serious and life-threatening.

How Can I Be Exposed To Asbestos?

Although no amount of asbestos exposure can be considered safe, the most devastating effects are found in people who have been exposed to intense concentrations on a regular basis over a long period of time. Exposure can occur on the job, but you can also be exposed to asbestos in your home if it was built before 1975.

High Risk Occupations Include:

  • Construction
  • Electricity generation
  • Firefighting
  • Military service
  • Mining
  • Shipbuilding
  • Heavy industry

Protection from Asbestos. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) has published strict standards and regulations which protect workers from the dangers of asbestos exposure. OSHA regulations addressing asbestos can be found here.

Asbestos can also be found in older homes. One of the most common uses was insulative, such as blown or rolled insulation and insulated tape used on ductwork. Other areas to consider are:

  • Floor tiles
  • Heavy glue used to adhere tiles to wood or concrete
  • Roofing materials
  • Exterior siding materials
  • Ceiling tiles
  • Textures paint and patching compounds
  • Artificial embers in gas fireplaces

If asbestos containing material is in good condition, it does not pose an immediate health risk. However, if the material is damaged or disturbed – such as during a home renovation project – fibers can be released and become airborne.

Start with a visual inspection to see if you notice damage of any kind, such as tearing, crumbling, or water damage. If no damage is apparent, the best choice is to leave the material undisturbed and check periodically for change.

If you see damage or you are planning to renovate an older home, you should arrange for a home assessment by a certified and experienced inspector. After a thorough visual examination, any area of concern will be tested after a careful sample collection procedure. You will receive a comprehensive report, including recommended next steps.

An experienced asbestos abatement contractor can handle repair (encapsulation or enclosure) or removal of asbestos containing materials in compliance with federal, state, and local regulations concerning permits, notifications, and disposal procedures.

Questions? If you have concerns about existing asbestos containing materials or are planning a renovation in your home, Paragon can handle the project professionally, safely, and thoroughly. We follow strict OSHA, EPA and CDPHE guidelines. Give us a call today at 303-529-1257.

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And we strictly follow OSHA, EPA and CDPHE regulations.