Asbestos is a naturally occurring fibrous mineral found in Canada, Africa, Eastern Europe and the United States. Asbestos was first used from the time of the Greeks and Romans in the first century. Since asbestos fibers were long and narrow, they were spun, woven and purchased by Roman restaurant owners for table cloths. As the story goes, after each customer left his table, the table cloth was cleaned by putting it in a fire. The food burned off the cloth and it was ready for the next guest. In modern times, asbestos was used extensively in residential and commercial buildings between 1920 and 1978.
There are several types of asbestos fibers, all of which are fire resistant and extremely durable. These and other qualities made asbestos very useful in construction and industry. One of the most common uses for asbestos has been as a fireproofing material. Asbestos is an extremely good insulator for fire, heat and sound. Asbestos was added to a variety of building materials and construction techniques to enhance strength. Asbestos may be found in building materials such as insulation around pipes, ducts, and furnaces, ceiling tiles, fiber insulation, plaster materials, vinyl flooring (floor tiles, linoleum and mastics), and wallboard patching compounds. Outside uses of asbestos include exterior roofing materials (both asphalt shingles and built-up roofing systems), roof flashing materials, siding shingles and waterproof caulking materials. Asbestos is also found in the lining of brake shoes.
It is a proven fact that asbestos, when inhaled, can cause various types of cancer, including mesothelioma and asbestosis. Just because asbestos material is present in a building does not mean it is a health hazard.
If the material is friable (easily crumbled due to band pressure), and becomes airborne, the risk of someone being exposed to asbestos fibers is greatly increased.
WHAT ARE THE HEALTH HAZARDS?
The harmful asbestos fibers are much too small to be seen by the naked eye. An average human hair is approximately 1200 times thicker than most asbestos fibers. Asbestos has been identified as a cancer causing material (carcinogen) and most uses have been banned in the United States.
Asbestosis, Mesothelioma and Lung Cancer have all been attributed to occupational exposure to asbestos. Symptoms of these diseases generally do not appear for approximately 10-40 years. There is no known safe level of asbestos exposure. The scientific community debates the hazards of non occupational exposure, which include exposure in houses, schools and offices. Thus, the health effects of non occupational exposure are unknown. The adverse health effects associated with asbestos exposure have been extensively studied for many years now. Results have concluded that inhalation of asbestos fibers may lead to increased risk of developing one or more diseases. The majority of people who have died from asbestos exposure were workers in the mining, manufacturing, and insulating industries working with raw and processed asbestos. Workers were exposed to high concentrations of asbestos fibers daily without wearing appropriate protection.
Smoking has been the common denominator in most asbestos related diseases. EPA warns that the dangers of asbestos exposure multiply for smokers. A smoker exposed to asbestos fibers is at least 50 times more likely to develop lung cancer than a nonsmoker exposed to asbestos. Asbestos represents a very minimal health threat as long as the material is in good condition and is not disturbed.
Asbestos breaks up into tiny sharp fibers that can not be seen by the naked eye. These fibers can measure less than one micron in length. A micron is one millionth of a meter and can stay in the air for up to 72 hours or even longer depending on air circulation.
Asbestos related diseases are not simply a result of the presence of asbestos. Asbestos in good condition and left undisturbed is not a hazard. Asbestos fibers must enter the body in order to produce asbestos related diseases. There are two major routes of entry into the body; (1) Inhalation and, (2) Ingestion.