The Hazards of Asbestos Containing Materials

When most people hear the word Asbestos, they instantly cringe. However, asbestos is a naturally occurring mineral found throughout the world and is used in virtually thousands of products. Consequently, very small trace amounts of the substance can be found in the air we breathe.

The word asbestos is derived from a Greek adjective, meaning inextinguishable. The “miracle mineral,” as the Greeks referred to it, was admired for its soft, plain properties and ability to withstand heat. The substance is easily distinguished from other minerals due to its long, thin fibers.

Asbestos Fibers

Where Can Asbestos be Found?

Today, asbestos continues to be banned from mining in the United States. However, it is imported into the U.S. and used nation-wide.

Asbestos is found in numerous buildings and products because of its availability and affordability. Referred to as asbestos-containing material (ACM), it has also proved to be well suited for many applications in the construction industry due to its unique properties such as fire resistance, high tensile strength, poor heat and electrical conductivity, and resistance to chemical attacks.

Asbestos’ mere presence in a building or product may not mean that there is an immediate danger or need for action. Asbestos is known to be in many household items and if it is properly maintained (not disturbed or damaged) it may not present a hazard.  However, when asbestos is disturbed during demolitions or renovations of a building, it can break down into fibers up to 1,200 times thinner than a human hair.  In these cases, when inhaled, the fibers may become trapped in lung tissue or the
stomach, which can cause serious health issues.

Often, many people suspect that a material or product contains asbestos by visual determination. However, actual determinations can only be made by instrumental analysis. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) requires that the asbestos content of suspect materials be determined by collecting bulk samples and analyzing them by polarized light microscopy (PLM). The PLM technique determines both the percent and type of asbestos in the bulk material. These samples must be taken by a licensed asbestos inspector.

Typical Asbestos Containing Materials:

  • Vehicle Brakes
  • Ceramic & Vinyl Floor Tile
  • Many Types of Mastic (Floor Tile Adhesive)
  • Pipe Insulation Wrap
  • Vermiculite Insulation
  • Cementious Siding
  • HVAC System Insulation

Asbestos Containing Materials

Please note: Wood, glass, and steel typically do not contain asbestos.

Why is Asbestos a Problem?

Currently, there isn’t a specific safe level of asbestos exposure in a household. However, a disturbance of any asbestos-containing material in any concentration may potentially be dangerous to your health. In order to be a significant health concern, asbestos fibers must be inhaled either through the mouth or the nose. Medical research indicates that up to 30 years after inhalation, asbestos fibers can cause lung cancer or mesothelioma (a related terminal cancer of the tissue lining the chest cavity). Unfortunately, you may not know you have been exposed to asbestos products because of the slow developing signs.

What Can Be Done to Prevent Danger to My Family?

It is important to remember asbestos is only a problem if asbestos fibers are released into the air. Asbestos-containing materials that are in good repair and not being disturbed will not release asbestos fibers. Therefore, the safest, easiest and least expensive option may be to leave the materials undisturbed.

If you have an asbestos inspection performed in your home by a licensed asbestos inspector and Asbestos Containing Materials are detected in your home, there are four standard procedures to deal with this issue. These methods include enclosure, encapsulation, repair, and removal.  It is recommended that any of these methods should be done by an experienced and licensed asbestos abatement contractor. By hiring a professional asbestos inspector, you will prevent the risk of being exposed to this deadly substance.

Did You Know?

Literally, tens of thousands of houses contain some type of asbestos. Even though the asbestos is present, it may not pose any immediate health hazards as long as it is maintained and preserved in good condition.

If removing/ disturbing material, one should first hire an asbestos inspector to test materials. If the material is damaged or needs to be removed, a qualified abatement company should be contacted.

It has been said that there are more asbestos fibers floating around on a Chicago street corner then in your own home. The floating fibers exist in the streets because automobile brake linings contain asbestos materials.

If you have additional questions regarding potential asbestos containing materials, Wisconsin Inspection Consultants has four (4) licensed asbestos inspectors.