Asbestos is defined as a heat-resistant fibrous silicate mineral that can be woven into fabrics, and is used in fire-resistant and insulating materials such as brake linings. The mineral is actually found in rocks and can the separated into the fibers used. There is a wide range of fibers that can be created with the mineral and used as fire resistant materials. Typically, these fibers are extremely durable and heat resistant which made them perfect for fire resistant jobs and have historically been used for a range of products from consumer, industrial and maritime materials as well as automotive and scientific products.
Typically, older homes had heating pipes that were insulated with asbestos as seen in the above photo.
Chrysotile is a type of white asbestos which is found mainly in Canada, and was very widely used across the United States in the 20th Century. Similar to the Chrysotile asbestos is one that is more gray in color and is found in the serpentine rock. The second form of asbestos is Amosite, which is brown and is found in southern Africa. Blue asbestos, or Crocidolite, the third type, is found in southern Africa and Australia. All of these types were commonly used for commercial products found in homes, shipyards, schools and commercial buildings.
Studies have found that asbestos has been linked as a cause of cancers of the lung and stomach when workers were exposed to the material. There is no definite period of time or level of exposure that has been deemed completely safe by researchers. When the environment contains asbestos, some of the materials can actually break down into much smaller fibers that can be inhaled unknowingly. Even with cleaning, these fibers can be so small that they can get back into air even after being vacuumed. If these fibers are inhaled, they can become lodged in the body’s tissues and over time can cause cancer or mesothelioma.
Asbestos poses a health risk only when the fibers in the materials are released into the air. If the space consist of soft asbestos that can be easily crumbled is the most dangerous form because it poses a greater risk for release into the air.
Exposure does not necessarily lead to disease. In fact, most people who have been exposed to small amounts of asbestos did not develop any related health issues. However, studies have shown that the chances of health related issues after exposure are greater.
While it is impossible to list every product using asbestos fibers, thermal insulation products are the most common asbestos containing products. The most popular use was for insulation material of heating pipes and ducts in homes built before 1960.
Below is a list of some additional common uses for asbestos-containing products:
Refractory and boiler insulation materials
Asbestos cement pipe
Vinyl floor tile
Duct & pipe insulation for heating
Brake and clutch assemblies
Insulated electrical wire and panels
In order to be absolutely certain if there is asbestos in your home, an industrial hygienist would have to come in and examine the home for the material. However, professionals such as plumbers, building contractors and HVAC contractors, who have worked with and experienced asbestos are often able to tell visually is the home contains asbestos. In addition, many seasoned professional home inspectors are able to perform a visual assessment.
The most important thing to know is that in MOST cases, it’s better to be left along due to the nature of breaking up the fibers and releasing them into air. Once a true assessment is made, a licensed asbestos contractor can work to eliminate the material from your home. Please note, you can request a copy of Asbestos in the Home from the U.S. Consumer Products Safety Commission by calling 800-638-2772. Keep in mind, you should not attempt to sweep, or vacuum particles you believe might contain asbestos.