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What is Asbestos ?

An estimated 1.3 million employees in construction and general industry face significant asbestos exposure on the job. Heaviest exposures occur in the construction industry, particularly during the removal of asbestos during renovation or demolition. Employees are also likely to be exposed during the manufacture of asbestos products (such as textiles, friction products, insulation, and other building materials) and during automotive brake and clutch repair work.

Asbestos is well recognized as a health hazard and is highly regulated. OSHA and EPA asbestos rules are intertwined.

The following commonly asked questions link to resources that provide useful safety and health information about Asbestos.

Asbestos workers have increased chances of getting two principal types of cancer: cancer of the lung tissue itself and mesothelioma, a cancer of the thin membrane that surrounds the lung and other internal organs. These diseases do not develop immediately following exposure to asbestos, but appear only after a number of years.

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.

Lung Cancer is a malignant tumor of the bronchi covering. The tumor grows through surrounding tissue, invading and often obstructing air passages. The time between exposure to asbestos and the occurrence of lung cancer is 20 to 30 years. It should be noted that there is a synergistic effect between smoking and asbestos exposure, which creates an extreme susceptibility to lung cancer.

Sample List of Suspect Asbestos - Containing Materials

Cement Pipes

Elevator Brake Shoes

Cement Wallboard

HVAC Duct Insulation

Cement Siding

Boiler Insulation

Asphalt Floor Tile

Breaching Insulation

Vinyl Floor Tile

Ductwork Flexible Fabric Connections

Vinyl Sheet Flooring

Cooling Towers

Flooring Backing

Pipe Insulation (corrugated air-cell, block, etc.)

Construction Mastics (floor tile, carpet, ceiling tile, etc.)

Heating and Electrical Ducts

Acoustical Plaster

Electrical Panel Partitions

Decorative Plaster

Electrical Cloth

Textured Paints/Coatings

Electric Wiring Insulation

Ceiling Tiles and Lay-in Panels

Chalkboards

Spray-Applied Insulation

Roofing Shingles

Blown-in Insulation

Roofing Felt

Fireproofing Materials

Base Flashing

Taping Compounds (thermal)

Thermal Paper Products

Packing Materials (for wall/floor penetrations)

Fire Doors

High Temperature Gaskets

Caulking/Putties

Laboratory Hoods/Table Tops

Adhesives

Laboratory Gloves

Wallboard

Fire Blankets

Joint Compounds

Fire Curtains

Vinyl Wall Coverings

Elevator Equipment Panels

Spackling Compounds

Source - U.S. Environmental Protection Agency

The following documents describe the health hazards of asbestos and how to
recognize it.

  • NIOSH Recommendations for Limiting Potential Exposures of Workers to Asbestos Associated with Vermiculite form Libby, Montana . NIOSH Update (2003, May 21), 2 pages. This document cautions that, in general, any vermiculite that originated from a mine near Libby should be regarded as potentially contaminated with asbestos.
  • The full fact sheet , DHHS (NIOSH) Publication No. 2003-141 (2003, May), 3 pages, is also available. This fact sheet provides information about vermiculite, its health effects, and how workers can be protected from asbestos-contaminated vermiculite.
  • Asbestos in Your Home . EPA (2003, January), 8 pages. This document will help you understand asbestos: what it is, its health effects, where it is in your home, and what to do about it.
  • Asbestos . NIOSH Safety and Health Topic page (2003), 4 pages. This document provides recommendations for preventing occupational exposure to asbestos.
  • Asbestos Statistics and Information . U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) (2003), 2 pages. Many thousands of tons of asbestos are currently imported, mined, and used every year in the U.S., mostly for roofing, friction products, and gaskets. The references in this link provide information on the amount of asbestos produced by year.
  • Sample List of Suspect Asbestos - Containing Materials . EPA Region VI (2002, June), 2 pages. Provides a list of materials that may contain asbestos.
  • Asbestos . OSHA Fact Sheet (2002), 63 KB PDF, 2 pages. This document discusses the hazards of asbestos exposure to workers.
  • Asbestos-The Tenth Report on Carcinogens . U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Public Health Service National Toxicology Program (2002), 2.02 MB PDF, 8 pages. This is a document that explains the properties, use, production, exposure, and regulations regarding asbestos.
  • Asbestos Information . Utah Division of Air Quality (2002), 4 pages. This document discusses asbestos minerals, diseases, exposure, and occurrence.
  • Toxicological Profile for Asbestos . Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR) (2001, September), 4 pages. The ATSDR toxicological profile succinctly characterizes the toxicologic and adverse health effects information of asbestos.
  • Chrysotile Reference Guide . Asbestos Institute, 3 pages. Provides an extensive overview of asbestos types and health related issues. Explores evidence of lower toxicity for chrysotile. To read why OSHA rejected this concept, use your browser's "find" feature to locate "chrysotile" in the Preamble to the 1994 OSHA Asbestos Standard .
  • What is Asbestos? University of Minnesota, 1 page. This document explains the different mineral forms of asbestos.
  • Asbestos Health Effects . University of Minnesota, 2 pages. This document describes asbestos exposure and disease.
  • Asbestos Report . International Program on Chemical Safety (IPCS), (1988, December). Provides an international point of view. This summary discusses aspects of asbestos production, use, and disposal, as well as health effects, and sampling and analysis procedures.
  • Asbestos: Criteria for a Recommended Standard . NIOSH (1976, December). This asbestos criteria document provides extensive discussion of asbestos hazards and control measures. Though the material is dated, this is a valuable resource.
  • Other mineral fibers may be hazardous . National Toxicology Program lists respirable size ceramic fibers (1.9 MB PDF) and glasswool (2.05 MB PDF) as "reasonably anticipated" carcinogens.