Asbestos from Miracle Material to Killer Product
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If I took a poll, probably a vast majority of people would recognize asbestos as a hazard. We know that it gets ripped out of schools and other public buildings. We recognize that people die from asbestos and that there are big class action lawsuits about the mineral.
There is a lot more we should know about this hazard previously thought of as a miracle product.
The use of asbestos dates back to the Greeks and Romans who used it to make cloth. It is a natural mineral, which varies by name and color depending upon where it is mined. There are 6 different minerals all lumped into the category of asbestos.
Asbestos is resistant to heat and most chemicals. The tough fibers were used as reinforcement and for heat resistance in many products for industry, homes and commercial buildings. It is a sneaky carcinogen because it was easy to add the mineral to a host of products that can disguise the presence to the naked eye. The reason for its widespread use is that where and when it was used, it saved lives from fire hazards and improved the characteristics of many products.
Story of Asbestos Mining
Asbestos is Real Personal for Millions of Workers
You might scratch your head on how this happened. There was evidence of the medical risks of asbestos as early as 1920, but workers were not told of the dangers until the mid 1970’s.
Millions of workers including my father have died of asbestos related cancer. As a young man, I was exposed to asbestos in everything from joint compound to insulation and ceiling tiles while working in the family construction company.
With that said, my work as an asbestos testing professional is highly personal. Asbestos exposure still occurs today in some products and when it is removed by unsuspecting workers. Asbestos is still heavily mined in Russia and can find its way into products being manufactured today.
Asbestos in the News and on TV
Within the last two months, asbestos made the news when the WTDV reporters found that samples of a highlighter makeup called “Just Shine Shimmer Powder” that is sold in Justice stores contained asbestos. By the way, this product targeted for young people also contained a handful of toxic heavy metals. Another example of possible asbestos that appears regularly on HGTV is popcorn or stipple ceiling finish material. Up until 1999, some manufacturers were adding asbestos to that material. Aspiring homeowners love to remove from ceilings which can contaminate a building if it contains asbestos fibers.
What Asbestos Looks Like
Some of the Most Common Asbestos Containing Materials
- Vinyl Floor Tiles
- Wrap on old ductwork and pipes
- Vermiculite insulation
- Plaster and joint compound
- Chimneys and furnaces
- Cement Fireplace Surrounds
- Old Fuse Boxes
- Rope Seals and Gaskets
- Popcorn Ceilings
Products that possibly have asbestos can and should be tested for the presence of asbestos before they are disturbed. The testing should be done by a licensed asbestos professional.
Next Steps If You Have Asbestos
When asbestos is found in a building, there are usually three possible options – removal, encapsulation or leaving the asbestos untouched.
Removal or abatement is usually necessary if the asbestos materials are damaged. Removal is a great option if you want to completely remove the potentially hazardous materials once and for all. Removal is also often necessary during construction, demolition and refurbishment projects.
Encapsulation is usually less expensive than removal, and involves covering the material to isolate it rather than removing it. An example would be installing a wood subfloor over an asbestos tile floor or covering asbestos containing insulation such as vermiculite insulation with a safe insulation.
Leaving asbestos in place may not seem like the best option, but in some cases asbestos does not pose a threat to humans, and can be left in place. An example of this would be a chimney installed in a sealed chase. As long as asbestos fibers can’t reach the air we breathe, they are not a hazard
The Safe Process of Asbestos Removal
The term that is used for asbestos fibers that are loose and can travel in the air to our lungs is “friable.” When asbestos is firmly secured in a substrate it is deemed “non-friable” You have probably seen photos of pipe wrap on old boilers falling apart. That would be considered “friable.” Vinyl floor tile in good condition would be an example of “non-friable.”
Think about the dandelion when it has turned from yellow to white. If you touch or blow on the little white threads they go all over the place. That same process occurs when friable asbestos is disturbed.
Containment is first sealing off the area where the work is being conducted. Handling the material without allowing it into any breathing space is the next steps. It needs gathered and bagged for removal while containment is preserved.
Negative air is settling equipment so as to keep air from escaping the barriers of containment through any small opening. The air is filtered of floating particles by air scrubbing.
Asbestos Related Diseases
Asbestosis is scarring if the lungs. This damages tissues and hampers their ability to intake oxygen to the blood. This disease can take from 15 to 30 years to show itself.
Lung Cancer is a malignant tumor of the bronchi covering. The tumor grows through surrounding tissue and obstructs the air passages. This disease can surface 20 to 30 years after asbestos exposure.
Mesothelioma is cancer of the mesothelium which is the lining of the abdominal wall. Early stages of the disease have few symptoms. By the time it is found, it is almost always fatal. This disease can have a latency period of 30 to 40 years.
As a final word, let me take a shot at the question a lot of people ask: Can I remove asbestos myself? I vote “no” unless you are equipped and practiced at the process of containment, negative air and air scrubbing. Asbestos can take decades to kill you, but it will. Watching what my dad went through, I assure you that slowly suffocating to death over a stretch of about a year is not worth saving money on an asbestos removal project.
Asbestos Trust Fund Information
Wikipedia on Asbestos
Asbestos Professional Information
OSHA Information on Asbestos
Story of Asbestos 1922 US Bureau of Mines - Johns-Manville; How Asbestos Was Mined
The Largest Open Cast Asbestos Mine in Russia