What is Asbestos?

Asbestos is the name of a group of highly fibrous minerals with separable, long, and thin fibers. Separated asbestos fibers are strong enough and flexible enough to be spun and woven. Asbestos fibers are heat resistant, making them useful for many industrial purposes.

Asbestos has been used commonly in a variety of building construction materials for insulation and as a fire-retardant. Because asbestos fibers are resistant to heat and most chemicals, they have been mined for use in over 3,000 different products, including roofing materials, brake pads, and cement pipe often used in distributing water to communities. Today, asbestos is most commonly found in older homes, in pipe and furnace insulation materials, asbestos shingles, millboard, textured paints and other coating materials, and floor tiles.

Elevated concentrations of airborne asbestos can occur after asbestos-containing materials are disturbed by cutting, sanding or other remodeling activities. Improper attempts to remove these materials can release asbestos fibers into the air in homes, increasing asbestos levels and endangering people living in those homes.

Where Asbestos Hazards May Be Found In The Home

  • Some roofing and siding shingles may have asbestos in them.

  • Houses built between 1930 and 1950 may have asbestos as insulation.

  • Asbestos may be present in textured paint and in patching compounds used on wall and ceiling joints. Their use was banned in 1977.

  • Artificial ashes and embers sold for use in gas-fired fireplaces may contain asbestos.

  • Older products such as stove-top pads may have some asbestos compounds.

  • Walls and floors around woodburning stoves may be protected with asbestos paper, millboard, or cement sheets.

  • Asbestos may be found in some vinyl floor tiles and on the backing on vinyl sheet flooring and adhesives.

  • Hot water and steam pipes in older homes may be coated with an asbestos material or covered with an asbestos blanket or tape.

  • Oil and coal furnaces and door gaskets may have asbestos insulation.

Asbestos can be positively identified only by a trained analyst using a specialized microscope.

Asbestos Health Effects

What are the health effects?

Significant exposure to asbestos will increase the risk of asbestosis or mesothelioma and nonmalignant lung and pleural disorders, including asbestosis, pleural plaques, pleural thickening, and pleural effusions.

Asbestos Exposure

Because asbestos fibers are naturally occurring and extremely aerodynamic, virtually everyone has the potential to be exposed to asbestos. To be a significant health concern, asbestos fibers must be inhaled at high concentrations over an extended period of time. Asbestos fibers then accumulate in the lungs. As exposure increases, the risk of disease also increases. Therefore, measures to minimize exposure and consequently minimize accumulation of fibers will reduce the risk of adverse health effects.

Asbestos Diseases

As asbestos fibers accumulate in the lungs, several types of diseases may occur. Asbestosis is a scarring of the lung tissue. This scarring impairs the elasticity of the lung and hampers its ability to exchange gases. This leads to inadequate oxygen intake to the blood. Asbestosis restricts breathing leading to decreased lung volume and increased resistance in the airways. It is a slowly progressive disease with a latency period of 15 to 30 years.

The next type of disease attributed to asbestos exposure is Mesothelioma. It is a cancer of the pleural lining. It is considered to be exclusively related to asbestos exposure. By the time it is diagnosed, it is almost always fatal. Similar to other asbestos related diseases, mesothelioma has a longer latency period of 30 to 40 years.

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