Asbestos: A Brief Overview

Posted on March 15, 2022 in: Safety

Joe Whiteman, director of safety services, The Voice Newsletter March 2022

Asbestos was commonly used for insulating buildings and homes against cold weather and noise. Due to its heat and fire-resistant characteristics, it was also a popular fireproofing material in the early 1900s. Asbestos is the fibrous form of crocidolite, amosite, chrysotile, anthophyllite, tremolite or a mixture containing any of these materials. In most commercial forms, asbestos looks like attic insulation, a ball of thick fuzz. In the construction industry, it was common to use asbestos in products such as cement and plaster, industrial furnaces and heating systems, building insulation, floor and ceiling tiles, and house siding. A good rule of thumb is, if a facility was built pre-1987, there's a good chance it has asbestos-containing materials (ACM). Those in the decorative and polishing industries should be aware of exposure to ACM in flooring mastic and tiles.

Inhaling asbestos fibers can cause cancer and other diseases including asbestosis, scarring and stiffening of the lungs caused by inhaling asbestos dust over many years. Breathing becomes very difficult due to the build up of scar tissue inside the lungs and may lead to fatal diseases such as pneumonia and heart disease. Exposure can also cause lung cancer and mesothelioma, a cancer of the linings of the lungs and abdomen. Asbestos-related diseases and symptoms generally take a long time to manifest, sometimes up to 30 years from initial exposure. Smokers are at an increased risk.

Awareness to these hazards is critical as asbestos is often mixed with other materials. Because the individual fibers are microscopic, it is important to avoid disturbing asbestos and to be trained to work with it safely. Renovating or demolishing houses containing asbestos products can release fibers, which can stay airborne for hours. Inhaling the fibers is the number one exposure and health hazard when working around ACM.

Those performing asbestos abatement must be trained and certified. If you have not had this training, by law, you are not allowed to remove or disturb the material. Always know when to ask the right questions, and make sure to understand the type of work you are undertaking. If the construction is new, chance of exposure to ACM is virtually impossible as it has been outlawed for use since the late 80s. If you are performing work in an older building, find out when the building was built. ALWAYS KNOW WHEN TO ASK THE QUESTION.

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