What is it?

Asbestos is the name of a group of highly fibrous minerals with separable, long, and thin fibers. Separated asbestos fibers are strong enough and flexible enough to be spun and woven. Asbestos fibers are heat resistant, making them useful for many industrial purposes. Because of their durability, asbestos fibers that get into lung tissue will remain for long periods of time.

How Can You Be Exposed to Asbestos?

You are most likely to be exposed to asbestos by breathing in asbestos fibers that are suspended in air. These fibers can come from naturally occurring sources of asbestos or from the wearing down or disturbance of manufactured products including home and building insulation, automotive brakes and clutches, ceiling and floor tiles, dry wall, roof shingles, and cement.

Exposure to asbestos can also occur in workers involved in mining, milling, and handling of other ores and rocks containing tremolite asbestos (such as vermiculite or talc). Residents who live near mining, milling or manufacturing sites that involve tremolite asbestos-containing material may be exposed to higher levels of airborne asbestos.

Vermiculite was also commonly sold in gardening and hardware stores. It was used as a soil amendment (conditioner to improve soil quality) or fertilizer carrier, and it was an ingredient in many potting soil mixtures.

On July 12, 1989, EPA established a ban on new uses of asbestos. Uses established before this date are still allowable. So any products made before 1989 may have asbestos.

Hazardous Health Effects of Asbestos:

Asbestosis: is a serious, progressive, long-term disease of the lungs. Asbestosis is not a cancer. The lungs become scarred increasing the difficulty to breathe and process oxygen. Asbestosis generally progresses slowly. The latency period for the onset of asbestosis is typically 10-20 years after the initial exposure. The disease can vary from asymptomatic (no symptoms) to disabling and potentially fatal.
Signs and Symptoms:

Shortness of breath is the primary symptom
A persistent and productive cough (a cough that expels mucus)
Chest tightness
Chest pain
Loss of appetite
A dry, crackling sound in the lungs while inhaling

Mesothelioma: is a rare cancer which may affect the lining of the lungs (plura) or the abdominal contents (peritoneum). Most mesotheliomas are caused by exposure to asbestos.

Lung cancer: is a malignant tumor that invades and obstructs the lung’s air passages. Cigarette smoking greatly increases the likelihood of a person developing lung cancer as the result of asbestos exposure.

What you should do if you Suspect Asbestos is in your home:

You cannot tell whether a material contains asbestos by simply looking at it, unless it is labeled. A sample of the material must be taken and sent for testing. It is recommended that you hire a professional to take the sample.

If you do not have it sampled, the best recommendation is to LEAVE IT ALONE. The less you move and disturb possible Asbestos, the less chance of releasing it into the air and breathing in the fibers.

If you have a problem that requires the services of asbestos professionals, check their credentials carefully. Hire professionals who are trained, experienced, reputable, and accredited – especially if accreditation is required by state or local laws. Before hiring a professional, ask for references from previous clients. Find out if they were satisfied. Ask whether the professional has handled similar situations. Get cost estimates from several professionals, as the charges for these services can vary.

More Information:

For more information on asbestos in other consumer products, call the CPSC Hotline or write to the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission, Washington, DC 20207. The CPSC Hotline has information on certain appliances and products, such as the brands and models of hair dryers that contain asbestos. Call CPSC at 1-800-638-CPSC. A teletypewriter (TTY) for the hearing impaired is available at 1-800-638-8270. The Maryland TTY number is 1-800-492-8104.

To find out whether your state has a training and certification program for asbestos removal contractors, and for information on EPA’s asbestos programs, call the EPA at 202-554-1404.

For more information on asbestos identification and control activities, contact the Asbestos Coordinator in the EPA Regional Office for your region, or your state or local health department.


Developed by: Dana Gelb

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