What is Asbestos?

Asbestos is a mineral fiber that occurs in rock and soil and is collected by mining.  Its fibers are exceptionally strong yet remain flexible, sound-absorbent and resistant to heat, electricity and chemical damage; which made a perfect substance for use in the early 1900’s thru 1970’s as a flame-retardant insulant/material in construction of buildings, roofing shingles, floor tiles, ceiling materials, cement compounds and even some automotive parts.  Basically, anything that could possibly catch fire, Asbestos was used.

Dangers of Asbestos

If Asbestos is left undisturbed, it presents no harm to humans nor animals. Asbestos only becomes a danger when disturbed causing the fibers to become airborne, as in the remodeling of a home or demolition of a building. While researchers have yet to determine a "safe level" of exposure, we all know the longer you are exposed to asbestos fibers, the greater the risk of contracting an Asbestos related disease. If inhaled, it could cause significant health problems such as:

  •  Asbestosis - As asbestos fibers are inhaled, they may become trapped in the lung tissue. The body tries to dissolve the fibers by producing an acid. This acid, due to the chemical resistance of the fiber, does little to damage the fiber, but may scar the surrounding tissue. The airways become so inflamed and scarred that oxygen is no longer able to pass from the lungs into the blood. The lungs become stiff and inelastic, and breathing becomes progressively difficult. The affected person feels a tightness in the chest, has a dry cough, and in the later stages, a bluish tinge to the skin caused by lack of oxygen.Eventually, this scarring may become so severe that the lungs cannot function. The time it takes is often 25-40 years.
  • Mesothelioma - is a cancer of the pleura, the lining of the lung, as described above. Very little asbestos exposure is required to develop a mesothelioma; When it appears, it grows and spreads quickly into the lung and the chest wall. Someone with mesothelioma has difficulty breathing and may get chest pain. They may lose weight, they may cough up blood, and in the later stages may have difficulty swallowing and a hoarse voice.
  • Lung Cancer - Lung cancer is more likely in people who have been exposed to asbestos fibers – although overall it's still rare in those people. However, if the person has been exposed and is also a smoker, the chance of getting lung cancer increases dramatically – especially if they're a heavy smoker.  A person with lung cancer develops a cough, there may be blood in the sputum, weight loss and chest infections that don't seem to clear up.  The earlier the diagnosis is made, the better the outcome of treatment. Early lung cancer can sometimes be cured by surgery. If cancer has spread outside the lung to lymph nodes in the chest or to other organs via the bloodstream, a cure isn't possible. Radiotherapy will often help the symptoms of advanced cancer.

How to Identify if it is Asbestos

Despite what some may tell you, it is NOT possible to identify asbestos just by looking at it.  It can ONLY be positively identified by a person trained in fiber identification with special polarized light microscope.  There are certified labs throughout the country that can identify asbestos in materials.  DO NOT try to take the samples yourself, you don't want to risk exposure to the airborne fibers by disturbing it without taking proper precautions.

Quick Facts

  • Do leave undamaged asbestos-containing material alone.

  • Do keep activites to a minimum in any areas having damaged material that may contain asbestos, including limiting children's access to any materials that may contain asbestos.

  • Do take every precaution to aviod damaging asbestos-containing material.

  • Do have removal and major repair done by people trained and qualified in handling asbestos. It is highly recommended that sampling and minor repair also be done by a trained and accredited asbestos professional.

  • Don't dust, sweep, or vacuum debris that may contain asbestos.

  • Don't saw, sand, scrape, or drill holes in asbestos-containing materials.

  • Don't use abrasive pads or brushes on power strippers to strip wax from asbestos flooring. Never use a power stripper on flooring that may contain asbestos.

  • Don't sand or try to level asbestos flooring or its backing. When asbestos flooring needs replacing, install new floor covering over it, if possible.

  • Don't track material that could contain asbestos through the house/building. If you cannot aviod walking through the area, have it cleaned with a wet mop. If the material is from a damaged area or if a large area must be cleaned, call an asbestos professional.



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