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Environmental Hazards: Asbestos

Asbestos is a mineral fiber that has been used commonly in a variety of building construction materials for insulation and as a fire-retardant. Because of its fiber strength and heat resistant properties, asbestos has been used for a wide range of manufactured goods, mostly in building materials (roofing shingles, ceiling and floor tiles, paper products, and asbestos cement products), friction products (automobile clutch, brake, and transmission parts), heat-resistant fabrics, packaging, gaskets, and coatings.

When asbestos-containing materials are damaged or disturbed by repair, remodeling or demolition activities, microscopic fibers become airborne and can be inhaled into the lungs, where they can cause significant health problems.

Most Common Sources of Asbestos Exposure in the Home:
Deteriorating, damaged, or disturbed asbestos-containing products such as insulation, fireproofing, acoustical materials, and floor tiles.
http://www.epa.gov/asbestos/pubs/help.html



Asbestos Frequently Asked Questions
What is Asbestos?
Asbestos is a mineral fiber. In the past, asbestos was added to a variety of products to strengthen them and to provide heat insulation and fire resistance.

How can Asbestos affect my 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 cancer.

Most people exposed to small amounts of asbestos, as we all are in our daily lives, do not develop health problems. However, if disturbed, asbestos material may release asbestos fibers, which can be inhaled into the lungs. The fibers can remain there for a long time, increasing the risk of disease.

Asbestos material that would crumble easily if handled, or that has been sawed, scraped, or sanded into a powder, is more likely to create a health hazard.

Where can I find Asbestos and when can it be a problem?
Most products made today do not contain asbestos. Those few products made which still contain asbestos that could be inhaled are required to be labeled as such. However, until the 1970s, many types of building products and insulation materials used in homes contained asbestos.

Common products that may have been made with asbestos include insulation, soundproofing, decorative material sprayed on walls and ceilings, hot water and steam pipes, and furnace ducts.

What should be done about Asbestos in the home?
If you think asbestos may be in your home, don't panic! Usually the best thing is to leave asbestos material that is in good condition alone, since material in good condition will not release asbestos fibers. There is no danger unless fibers are released and inhaled into the lungs.

If asbestos material is more than slightly damaged, or if you are going to make changes in your home that might disturb it, repair or removal by a professional is needed.

Asbestos professionals are trained in handling asbestos material. The type of professional will depend on the type of product and what needs to be done to correct the problem. You may hire a general asbestos contractor or, in some cases, a professional trained to handle specific products containing asbestos.


For more information, see the EPA's Asbestos Information Resources.

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