Not that long ago asbestos was known as the “magic mineral”. It is amazingly strong and fireproof, which is why it was used in thousands of different products. All kinds of building materials, automobile parts such as brake linings and clutch pads, insulation, and flooring mastics were comprised of asbestos and other materials. In 1977 Asbestos use was restricted so it's fair to say that it could be widely used in any structure build before the 1970's.
A common myth regarding asbestos is that it’s illegal to produce asbestos containing materials, so why worry about it? The U.S. can still manufacture products which contain asbestos for export, and for products where a safer product does not exist, such as brake linings. Other countries import asbestos containing materials to the U.S. by labeling it as “a naturally occurring mineral”, or by stating the type of asbestos (Chrysotile, Amosite, Tremolite, etc.) which most consumers would not recognize as asbestos. When it comes to asbestos containing products in today’s market, it “buyer beware”. If you don’t specify “non-asbestos containing”, chances are you’ll get products which contain asbestos.
What’s so dangerous about asbestos?
- Asbestos fibers are very small. If you inhale them, they go deep into your lungs, and stay there, possibly causing disease 10 to 40 years later.
- Asbestosis (a lung disease) and mesothelioma (a rare type of cancer) are both diseases that only people exposed to asbestos get.
- You’re 90 times more likely to develop lung cancer if you smoke and are exposed to asbestos than people who do not smoke and are not exposed to asbestos.
What are some asbestos containing materials that you may come in contact with?
- Roofing felt, shingles, and patch material
- Vinyl floor tile and linoleum backing
- Pipe and boiler insulation
- Spray-on decorative acoustical ceiling material
- Putties, caulks, cements and other mastics
So how can you tell something is made of asbestos? Is it a certain color? texture? Unfortunately the only way is to have it tested in a lab. It is best to use caution when dealing with unknown items unless you are sure it is tested to indicate it does not contain asbestos.
Again the danger of asbestos is in it's release into the air. Each of us has walked on asbestos tiles some where at some point in time. There is no harm it that. However, if you take the tile and drill holes in it or take a file to it, you will release asbestos fibers into the air which could enter your lungs.
On the other hand it would be difficult to do anything with asbestos based insulation without the risk of getting some of it airborne. This is called being friable.
If the material is positive for asbestos, only a properly trained crew can remove, repair, encapsulate, or enclose it. They must be appropriately trained to remove and dispose of the material. The best thing you can do if you come across some friable material that you believe may be asbestos containing is to stop and ask prior to disturbing it. This is for your safety.