Introduction to Asbestos

What is Asbestos?

Asbestos is a naturally occurring mineral fiber. Due to its unique properties, it was used in a number of different materials up into the 1970s and may still be found in some products currently being manufactured. It is estimated there have been over 3,000 different commercial applications of asbestos containing materials (ACM). Some of these materials include:

  • Acoustical plaster
  • Blown in insulation
  • Boiler insulation
  • Brake pads
  • Ceiling tiles and panels
  • Cementitious siding and wallboard (transite)
  • Chalkboards
  • Fireproofing materials
  • Floor tile or sheeting
  • Flooring mastics
  • HVAC duct insulation
  • Joint compounds
  • Pipe insulation
  • Roofing shingles and felts
  • Spackling compounds
  • Textured paints
  • Theater curtains

Negative Health Effects

Asbestos fibers are very small and can only be positively identified with a special type of microscope. There is no known safe level of asbestos exposure. There are three major health risks associated with asbestos exposure:

  • Asbestosis is caused by an accumulation of asbestos fibers in the lungs, which leads to the development of scar tissue. Symptoms include shortness of breath, cough, decreased ability to exercise, chest pain, and eventual heart failure.
  • Mesothelioma is a cancer of the lining of the lung and abdominal cavity. This cancer is rare and currently not treatable. Symptoms include shortness of breath and chest pain. Mesothelioma usually does not appear until 20 to 40 years after first exposure to asbestos.
  • Lung cancer accounts for most of the deaths related to asbestos exposure. Lung cancer is affected by the type of asbestos fiber that is inhaled, smoking habits and exposure to other chemicals in addition to asbestos.