Asbestos is a naturally occurring mineral that is made up of tiny, pointed fibers. In fact, asbestos includes several different minerals with the same characteristics. You are probably most familiar with asbestos from the diseases mesothelioma and asbestosis, but your grandparents’ generation would have known it as an excellent building material. Asbestos fibers are strong and resistant to heat. Contrary to popular conception, there is no blanket ban on the use of asbestos in manufacturing.
What Is Asbestos?
As mentioned in the intro, asbestos is a naturally occurring mineral. Its fibers are strong, flexible, and resistant to heat. These traits make it an ideal component of many building materials. It’s durable and makes the products last longer. Unfortunately, those same characteristics also present a pretty significant health hazard.
Because of the shape and size of the fiber, when inhaled it becomes trapped in your lungs. Over the course of time, the fiber causes inflammation and scarring of the lung tissue. This process leads to the cancerous disease called mesothelioma and the non-cancerous disease asbestosis. Both are progressive lung diseases and are exclusively linked to asbestos exposure.
Where Does Asbestos Come From?
Asbestos is a mined mineral that comes straight from the earth.
It is found throughout North America and the rest of the world. Currently, other developed countries actively export asbestos for use in manufacturing.
Where Is Asbestos Found?
There is no current blanket ban on the manufacture or import of asbestos-containing products. You can still find asbestos in products such as roofing tars, brakes, and more.
That said, many of the products that carry the highest exposure have been regulated or simply discontinued use of the fiber.
You can find asbestos in many many building materials pre-dating the 1990s. The most common suspects are vinyl flooring, pipe insulation, drywall joint compound, roofing products, cement siding and more.
While the use of asbestos declines sharply after 1990, it still shows up in newer homes. You can never rule out the possibility of asbestos in building materials.
Asbestos Exposure Risks
The majority of patients with asbestos related diseases are older men who were exposed through their occupation. This is because the diseased have a long latency period. As the fibers build in your lungs, it can take up to 20 years for the damaged and related diseases to present.
While long term exposure puts a person at higher risk, studies have shown that there is no “safe threshold” of exposure.
Practically speaking, it today’s world, your risk of asbestos exposure comes during renovations or demolitions of buildings that have asbestos containing building materials.
When these materials come under the force of sledgehammers, wrecking bars, and bulldozers, they are pulverized into dust. In the process, asbestos fibers are released into the air and you are at risk of exposure.
How To Identify Asbestos
The only way to detect asbestos is by evaluating it under a microscope. While there are several products that so well know they are generally assumed to contain asbestos, there are many more lesser-known products.
The first step in identifying asbestos fibers is to properly identify the materials that may contain the fiber. This is where a professional asbestos inspector comes into play. Many homeowners miss material simply because they are unaware. A professional can ensure all risk areas are identified.
After identifying suspect materials, samples are collected and sent to a laboratory for evaluation.