Asbestos is the name given to six naturally occurring fibrous silicate minerals, which have high tensile strength, the ability to be woven, and resistance to heat and most chemicals. Because of these properties, asbestos fibers have been used in a wide range of manufactured goods, including roofing shingles, ceiling and floor tiles, paper and cement products, textiles, coatings, and friction products such as automobile clutch, brake and transmission parts. The inhalation of asbestos fibers can cause serious illness including malignant lung cancer, mesothelioma (a rare cause of cancer caused by exposure to amphibole asbestos) and asbestosis (a long term non-cancer disease of the lungs).
The Toxic Substances Control Act defines asbestos as the asbestiform varieties of:
chrysotile (serpentine); and those belonging to the amphibole class including: crocidolite (riebeckite); amosite (cummingtonite/ grunerite); anthophyllite; tremolite; and actinolite. Crystotile asbestos makes up 95% of the asbestos found in buildings in America.
We are all exposed to low levels of asbestos in the air we breathe. These levels range from 0.00001 to 0.0001 fibers per milliliter of air and generally are highest in cities and industrial areas. Exposure to more significant levels of asbestos usually occurs by breathing contaminated air in workplaces that make or use asbestos. Asbestos is also found in the air of buildings containing asbestos that are being torn down or renovated.
People working in industries that make or use asbestos products or who are involved in asbestos mining may be exposed to high levels of asbestos. People living near these industries may also be exposed to high levels of asbestos in air.
Asbestos fibers may be released into the air by the disturbance of asbestos-containing material during product use, demolition work, building or home maintenance, repair, and remodeling. In general, exposure may occur only when the asbestos-containing material is disturbed in some way to release particles and fibers into the air. Drinking water may contain asbestos from natural sources or from asbestos containing cement pipes.
In 1989, EPA banned all new uses of asbestos; uses established before this date are still allowed. EPA established regulations that require school systems to inspect for damaged asbestos and to eliminate or reduce the exposure by removing the asbestos or by covering it up. EPA regulates the release of asbestos from factories and during building demolition or renovation to prevent asbestos from getting into the environment.
The Occupational Safety and Health Administration has set limits of 100,000 fibers with lengths greater than or equal to 5 µm per cubic meter of workplace air for 8-hour shifts and 40-hour work weeks.
To see a video clip excerpt for the 1999 USA Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) regarding Asbestos Abatement, click on this link.
Special note to building owners and contractors:
Building owners must have their buildings inspected for asbestos before construction, renovation and demolition activities.
Construction contractors – Disturbing asbestos materials during construction is a serious hazard. Before bidding or starting any construction work, they must obtain a written asbestos report from the building owner or owner’s agent.
If you are worried about your building containing asbestos, and particularly if you plan any remodeling or demolition, contact Southern Middlesex Industries and we will provide a free assessment and recommendation. SMI can solve your asbestos problem and make your building safe for those using the facility.