What is it?
Asbestos is a microscopic, naturally occurring fiber material that is found on every continent in the world. When this fiber is inhaled, it can become trapped in the lungs, causing the fibers to accumulate and lead to serious health problems such as asbestosis, mesothelioma and lung cancer. Although it has been used for thousands of years, it became increasingly common in the United States by the late 1800s. It was more and more present in various products during the start of the Industrial Revolution in the early 1900s up until the late 1970s. Historically, due to its versatility, it was used in a variety of items. More recently, it was a major component in the construction of buildings, ships, trains, automobiles and planes, among other things, because it was inexpensive and durable. While in some other countries asbestos has been banned, surprisingly, it is currently not banned in the United States. In 1989, the Toxic Substance Control Act banned many products that contained asbestos, but this Act was overturned in 1991.
What does it do?
Asbestos is able to insulate as well as resist heat, which makes it a great insulator and fire retardant, in addition to helping strengthen products. It does not react with chemicals and does not produce electricity.
Where is it found?
It is found in many commercial buildings such as schools, hospitals and factories, as well as in privately owned buildings and homes. Surprisingly, it can also be found in transportation vehicles such as ships, trains, planes and automobiles, among other things. The automobile industry used asbestos for many years in products such as brakes, gaskets, clutches, heat seals, hood liners, insulation, and engine components.
Typically, products that contain asbestos are:
- vinyl floor tiles
- roofing materials
- heating or steam pipe insulation
- ceiling tiles
- cement roof sheeting
What does it look like?
Asbestos cannot be accurately identified by the naked eye because it comes in various shapes, sizes and colors, and frequently is mixed with other materials. The only way to know for certain if asbestos is present is to have a professional inspect it and submit a sample for testing to an accredited asbestos laboratory.
Should I be worried about asbestos?
In humans, asbestos is incredibly dangerous when disturbed or damaged and disintegrating. It causes diseases such as asbestosis, mesothelioma and lung cancer. It can take anywhere from 10 to 50 years for symptoms to develop and display themselves and once it is diagnosed, it’s often too late to do anything. On average, around 3,000 people are diagnosed with mesothelioma each year in the United States. Typically, the types of workers who are at risk are painters, construction workers, electricians, plumbers, plasterers, carpenters, firefighters, roofers, factory workers, mechanics, engineers, and other repair and maintenance jobs prior to 1980. If you plan on renovating your home, or think you may be working with a product that contains asbestos, you should bring in a professional to take samples of the material so it may be tested. The best advice is to leave it alone, and if you are planning on working or removing something that contains asbestos, professionals should handle it.