Asbestos is the generic name given to the fibrous variety of six naturally occurring minerals that have been used in commercial products. These minerals are made up of fibrous bundles. These fibers are long and thin, and they can be easily separated from one another. Asbestos minerals have physical properties (high tensile strength, flexibility, resistance to heat and chemicals, high electrical resistance, and the capability to be woven like fabric) that make them useful in many commercial products.
It has been estimated that asbestos was once used in more than 3,000 different products. Asbestos can be found in vinyl flooring, patching compounds and textured paints, sprayed acoustic ceilings, acoustic ceiling tiles, stove insulation, furnace insulation, pipe insulation, wall and ceiling insulation, roofing shingles and siding, home appliances, fire-retardant clothing, vehicle brake pads, and cement pipe.
It would depend upon the context of an individual’s contact with asbestos.
- Is asbestos the cause of major public health concerns in our state today?
- Is asbestos a hazard to commercial and industry workers that have contact with it on a daily basis?
Due to government regulation, this is unlikely. In the years before government regulation, asbestos exposure was an occupational hazard.
In the United States, asbestos containing products available to the general public have essentially been eliminated. Its use today is mainly limited to commercial and industrial applications. Federal government regulations require the protection of the health and safety of persons that use materials containing asbestos in their occupations. The primary public health hazard is the inadvertent or uncontrolled contact with old materials or products that contain asbestos materials and are not intact.
You will not be harmed by touching asbestos or being near materials containing it. Asbestos can cause health problems when inhaled into the lungs. If products containing asbestos are disturbed, microscopic, lightweight asbestos fibers are released into the air. Persons breathing the air may breathe in the asbestos fibers. Continued exposure increases the amount of fibers that remain in the lung. Fibers embedded in lung tissue over time may result in lung diseases such as asbestosis, lung cancer, or mesothelioma. Studies have shown that the combination of smoking and asbestos exposure is particularly harmful.
There is no minimum concentration of asbestos fibers in the air that is considered safe for humans to inhale on a continual basis. The risk of developing adverse health effects is dependent upon the exposure (the amount of asbestos inhaled and the duration of time it was inhaled, typically measured in years) a person has had. Symptoms of lung problems do not usually appear until after 20-30 years of exposure to high levels of asbestos fibers (as might be found in an industrial setting). Most people do not develop health problems when exposed to small amounts of asbestos.
Asbestos-containing material (ACM) can be found in many buildings (including public buildings and schools) and homes today. The older the building is, the more likely ACMs are present in the structure. Fortunately, most residential homes constructed within the past 20 years are not likely to contain any ACM.
It is not possible to identify asbestos just by looking at it. Only a person trained in asbestos fiber identification using a special polarized light microscope can identify it. There are environmental consultants who can be hired to identify asbestos in building materials.
If you have ACM in your home, your choices are to remove it, contain it, or live with it. The recommended thing to do, if the ACM is in good condition, is to leave it alone. The only way it can affect your health is when the material is damaged and fibers become airborne. If it is moderately damaged, it is recommended that you manage it in place (repair the damage and contain it, possibly with a coat of paint or sealer). Removing and disposing of any ACM is expensive and also increases the likelihood of releasing the fibers into the air.
If you feel that you cannot live with it, then the services of an asbestos abatement contractor should be considered. There are commercial companies that can be hired to remove ACM from homes and buildings. The Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation has Asbestos Accreditation Requirements for all persons and firms who perform asbestos activities in schools or public and commercial buildings, and training providers who offer asbestos training courses. It would be advisable to check out these companies with your local Better Business Bureau. Due to the expense involved with the removal of asbestos from a home, it is also recommended that a homeowner obtain bids from several companies.