Frequently Asked Questions
What is asbestos?
Asbestos is the name given to a group of minerals that occur naturally in the environment as bundles of fibers that can be separated into thin, durable threads. These fibers are resistant to heat, fire, and chemicals and do not conduct electricity. For these reasons, asbestos has been used widely in many industries. Chemically, asbestos minerals are silicate compounds, meaning they contain atoms of silicon and oxygen in their molecular structure.
What are the two major groups of Asbestos and which is more dangerous in terms of exposure?
Asbestos minerals are divided into two major groups: Serpentine asbestos and amphibole asbestos. Serpentine asbestos includes the mineral chrysotile, which has long, curly fibers that can be woven. Chrysotile asbestos is the form that has been used most widely in commercial applications. Amphibole asbestos includes the minerals actinolite, tremolite, anthophyllite, crocidolite, and amosite. Amphibole asbestos has straight, needle-like fibers that are more brittle than those of serpentine asbestos and are more limited in their ability to be fabricated. Therefore most exposure to asbestos is from the more popular Serpentine asbestos.
How is asbestos used?
Asbestos has been mined and used commercially in North America since the late 1800s. Its use increased greatly during World War II. Since then, asbestos has been used in many industries. For example, the building and construction industries have used it for strengthening cement and plastics as well as for insulation, roofing, fireproofing, and sound absorption. The shipbuilding industry has used asbestos to insulate boilers, steam pipes, and hot water pipes. The automotive industry uses asbestos in vehicle brake shoes and clutch pads. Asbestos has also been used in ceiling and floor tiles; paints, coatings, and adhesives; and plastics. In addition, asbestos has been found in vermiculite-containing garden products and some talc-containing crayons.
Has all new use of Asbestos been banned?
No. In 1989, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) banned all new uses of asbestos; however, uses developed before 1989 are still allowed.
Has the ban on new uses of Asbestos been effective in limiting its commercial use in the United States?
Yes as can be seen in the major decrease in the amount of domestic consumption of asbestos since regulations have banned or restricted its use. Domestic consumption of asbestos amounted to about 803,000 metric tons in 1973, but it had dropped to about 2,400 metric tons by 2005.
How are people exposed to asbestos?
People may be exposed to asbestos in their workplace, their communities, or their homes. If products containing asbestos are disturbed, tiny asbestos fibers are released into the air. When asbestos fibers are breathed in, they may get trapped in the lungs and remain there for a long time. Over time, these fibers can accumulate and cause scarring and inflammation which can affect breathing and lead to serious health problems.
What are the health hazards of exposure to asbestos?
The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, the EPA, have classified asbestos as a known human carcinogen. Studies have shown that exposure to asbestos may increase the risk of lung cancer and mesothelioma, a rare form of cancer that is found in the thin lining of the lung, chest and the abdomen and heart. In addition to lung cancer and mesothelioma, some studies have suggested an association between asbestos exposure and gastrointestinal and colorectal cancers, as well as an elevated risk for cancers of the throat, kidney, esophagus, and gallbladder. Asbestosis is also a serious progressive, long-term, non-cancer disease of the lung that can form from overexposure of asbestos.
Who is at risk for an asbestos-related disease?
Everyone is exposed to asbestos at some time during his or her life. Low levels of asbestos are present in the air, water, and soil. However, most people do not become ill from their exposure. People who become ill from asbestos are usually those who are exposed to it on a regular basis, most often in a job where they work directly with the material or through substantial environmental contact. Exposure and longer exposure time, investigators have found asbestos-related diseases in individuals with only brief exposures. Generally, those who develop asbestos-related diseases show no signs of illness for a long time after their first exposure. It can take from 10 to 40 years or more for symptoms of an asbestos-related condition to appear.
What factors affect the risk of developing an asbestos-related disease?
Several factors can help to determine how asbestos exposure affects an individual, including:
- Dose (how much asbestos an individual was exposed to).
- Duration (how long an individual was exposed).
- Size, shape, and chemical makeup of the asbestos fibers.
- Source of the exposure.
- Individual risk factors, such as smoking and pre-existing lung disease.
How does smoking affect risk?
Many studies have shown that the combination of smoking and asbestos exposure is particularly hazardous. Smokers who are also exposed to asbestos have a risk of developing lung cancer that is greater than the individual risks from asbestos and smoking added together.
How are asbestos-related diseases detected?
Individuals who have been exposed (or suspect they have been exposed) to asbestos fibers on the job, through the environment, or at home via a family contact should inform their doctor about their exposure history and whether or not they experience any symptoms. The symptoms of asbestos-related diseases may not become apparent for many decades after the exposure. It is particularly important to check with a doctor if any of the following symptoms develop:
- Shortness of breath, wheezing, or hoarseness.
- A persistent cough that gets worse over time.
- Blood in the sputum (fluid) coughed up from the lungs.
- Pain or tightening in the chest.
- Difficulty swallowing.
- Swelling of the neck or face.
- Loss of appetite.
- Weight loss.
- Fatigue or anemia.
How can workers protect themselves from asbestos exposure?
The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) is a component of the U.S. Department of Labor (DOL) and is the Federal agency responsible for health and safety regulations in maritime, construction, manufacturing, and service workplaces. OSHA established regulations dealing with asbestos exposure on the job, specifically in construction work, shipyards, and general industry, employers are required to follow.
What other organizations offer information related to asbestos exposure?
The organizations listed below can provide more information about asbestos exposure:
The Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR) is the principal Federal agency responsible for evaluating the human health effects of exposure to hazardous substances.
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) regulates the general public’s exposure to asbestos in buildings, drinking water, and the environment. The EPA offers a Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA) Hotline and an Asbestos Ombudsman.
The U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) is responsible for protecting the public from unreasonable risks of serious injury or death from more than 15,000 types of consumer products, including asbestos, under the agency’s jurisdiction.
How can a private homeowner or renter determines is a substance is in fact asbestos, which presents a threat to their health and the health of their family?
By contacting DCM Environmental Testing for a full examination of the asbestos exposure of their home or office or both. This examination will answer finally and fully the question of their home or office exposure to highly toxic asbestos.