Description of Asbestos

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Asbestos is a building material made from "...impure magnesium silicate minerals which occur in fibrous form," according to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). The product was incorporated into insulation, shingles, siding, flooring, and even in common products used to prevent heat transfer in cooking. The EPA and the Consumer Product Safety Commission passed regulations banning most uses of asbestos in the 1970s due to health dangers.

Health Effects

  • When asbestos fibers are used in manufacture or when asbestos-filled materials are cut or moved, fibers are released into the air. Long-term health hazards from exposure to asbestos include lung cancer, asbestosis (lung scarring) and mesothelioma (cancer of the abdomen and the chest). Smokers have magnified health risks when exposed to asbestos, although the reason is unknown, and the EPA reports that disease symptoms usually take 20 to 30 years to appear from the time of the initial exposure to the fibers.

Sources

  • Building materials made prior to the 1970s, also known as asbestos-containing materials or ACM, have a significant chance of including asbestos. Homes and commercial structures feature asbestos in paint, shingles, floor tiles and insulation, according to the EPA. All insulation, construction tapes, textured paints and wall coverings, sheet cement and furnace ducting in homes built before the 1970s incorporate asbestos.

    Employment in shipyards, insulation and acoustical materials manufacture and home remodeling also provide exposure to workers and office staff.

Identification

  • Household goods, including pot holders, hair dryers and ironing board covers, made prior to the 1970s routinely used asbestos fibers to inhibit heat transfer. The products may be identified with tags, but consumer laws did not require special asbestos marking during this time period. The best policy is to discard any questionable household items.

    Identification of asbestos-containing building materials may be difficult since the fibers were embedded in many products. A safe course of action is to hire a professional to inspect any area prior to remodeling or construction. Contact county building or health departments for assistance in locating a trained contractor.

Exposure Reduction

  • The EPA recommends leaving asbestos in place. Certified contractors are trained in safe removal and disposal of asbestos-contaminated materials. Damaged building materials may release hazardous fibers into the residence, business or factory, and damaged areas may require repair to remain safe.

Removal

  • Asbestos materials should be placed in doubled plastic bags using thick plastic gloves. The gloves should then be removed without touching the skin and also bagged for disposal. Seal the bags tightly and contact city or county officials to determine proper disposal. Do not place the items in common trash or recycling facilities. The materials are toxic and should not be allowed to enter the water table or landfill.

    When it is impossible to leave asbestos building materials in place, a licensed contractor must be employed to remove the asbestos-embedded materials. Confirm that the contractor is trained in proper removal. This procedure includes sealing off area and using an air purification system to prevent the release of fibers into the air.

References

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