What is Asbestos? - Asbestos is a naturally occurring mineral fiber. The fibers are strong, durable and resistant to heat and fire. Because they are long, thin and flexible, they can even be woven into cloth. Because of these qualities, asbestos fibers have been used in thousands of different products.
How Does It Affect Health? - From studies of people who were exposed to asbestos in factories and shipyards, we know that breathing high levels of asbestos fibers can lead to an increased risk of lung disease, such as:
The risk of getting an asbestos-related lung disease increases with the number of fibers inhaled (the risk is greater if you smoke). Most people exposed to small amounts of asbestos will not develop any related health problems. However, if disturbed, asbestos-containing material may release asbestos fibers into the air where they can then be inhaled into the lungs. The fibers can remain in the lung for a long time, increasing the risk of disease. Asbestos-containing material that crumbles easily if handled, or material that has been sawed, scraped, or sanded into a powder, is more likely to create a health hazard because of the release of the fibers into the air.
Where Can Asbestos Be Found in A Home? - Asbestos has been used in thousands of consumer, industrial, maritime, automotive, scientific and building products. Examples asbestos-containing products used in homes are:
Should You Do Anything About Asbestos in Your Home? - The U.S. EPA states that "Usually the best thing is to LEAVE asbestos-containing material that is in good condition ALONE. Generally, material in good condition will not release asbestos fibers into the air. THERE IS NO DANGER unless fibers are released and inhaled into the lungs."
Damaged material is more apt to release asbestos fibers (this is particularly true if it is often disturbed by hitting, rubbing or handling, or if it is exposed to extreme vibration or air flow). If you suspect a material may contain asbestos, don't touch it, but look for signs of wear or damage such as tears, abrasions or water damage. If asbestos-containing material is more than slightly damaged, or if you are going to make changes in your home that might disturb it (such as remodeling), you should contact a qualified asbestos professional.
How Can You Identify Materials With Asbestos? - Unless labeled, you can't tell if a material contains asbestos by looking at it. The material must be microscopically analyzed. If in doubt, treat the material as if it contains asbestos or have it sampled and analyzed by a qualified professional. Taking samples yourself is not recommended because if done incorrectly, sampling can be more hazardous than leaving the material alone.
Qualified Asbestos Professionals - Asbestos consultants can conduct home surveys to identify materials that may contain asbestos, take samples of suspected material, assess its condition and advise about what corrections are needed. Asbestos abatement contractors are trained in handling and removing asbestos-containing material. Some firms offer combinations of testing, assessment and correction. A professional hired to assess the need for corrective action should not be connected with an asbestos-correction firm. It is better to use two different firms so there is no conflict of interest.
Standards for asbestos consultants and asbestos abatement contractors vary from state to state and sometimes, city to city. You should verify the standards required by your local building authority before having any work done.
Need More Information? - The following links provide further information or explanations about asbestos: