Asbestos is a group of naturally occurring minerals made up of heat-resistant fibers. It was used in thousands of U.S. consumer products before the dangers of asbestos were known. Asbestos is regulated in the U.S. but not banned. Asbestos is regulated in the U.S. but not banned. Asbestos imports have fluctuated, but there has been an upward trend in recent years. In 2020, the U.S. imported nearly double the amount of asbestos compared to 2019.
Asbestos was widely used in construction as an effective insulator, and it can be added to cloth, paper, cement, plastic, and other materials to make them stronger. But when asbestos dust is inhaled or ingested, the fibers can become permanently trapped in the body. Over decades, tangled asbestos fibers can cause inflammation, scarring, and genetic damage. Asbestos exposure can cause cancer and other health conditions. For example, a rare and aggressive cancer called mesothelioma is almost exclusively caused by asbestos exposure. Asbestos also causes a progressive lung disease called asbestosis. The carcinogenic qualities of the mineral are what make asbestos dangerous.
Is All Asbestos Dangerous?
While some types of asbestos may be more hazardous than others, all are dangerous. Leading health agencies, including the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, the EPA, and the International Agency for Research on Cancer, classify all types of asbestos as cancer-causing substances. The EPA has abandoned projects aiming to identify which asbestos fiber types are the most toxic because the overall regulation of asbestos and asbestiform minerals is a more pressing priority.
The Two Mineral Families of Asbestos
- Serpentine asbestos has curly fibers made up of sheets of crystals. The single type of asbestos from the serpentine family, chrysotile, has historically accounted for more than 95% of all asbestos used worldwide.
- Amphibole asbestos has needle-shaped fibers. Studies suggest it takes much less exposure to amphibole asbestos to cause cancer than serpentine. Amosite and crocidolite are the most commercially valuable types of amphibole asbestos, while anthophyllite, tremolite, and actinolite are considered noncommercial forms.
Chrysotile, commonly referred to as “white asbestos,” was used in most of the various asbestos-containing products manufactured in the United States during the 20th century. As a result, the United States and Canada were once significant producers of this toxic mineral.
Naturally occurring chrysotile deposits are often accompanied by trace amounts of amphibole types of asbestos, which increase its toxicity. However, exposure to chrysotile asbestos fibers creates a severe risk of developing a life-threatening illness. Therefore, the NIOSH has concluded that people should treat chrysotile asbestos with the same concern as other forms of asbestos.
Chrysotile asbestos-containing products include:
- Brake pads
- Vinyl tiles
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency determined amosite, or “brown asbestos,” to be the second most commonly used type of asbestos in the United States. In its natural state, the amosite is known as grunerite, mainly mined in South Africa. According to the American Cancer Society, exposure to amosite asbestos creates a higher risk of cancer than common chrysotile asbestos.
Amosite asbestos-containing products include:
- Cement sheets
- Fire protection
- Roofing products
- Vinyl tiles
Crocidolite may be responsible for more deaths than any other type of asbestos because its fibers are fragile, causing them to lodge more easily in lung tissue.
Crocidolite asbestos-containing products include:
- Acid storage battery casings
- Ceiling tiles
- Cement sheets
The only way to know if a building material or product contains asbestos is to have an approved laboratory analyze a representative sample. The following list of materials provided by the EPA lists some (but not all) products/materials that may contain asbestos.
It is intended as a general guide:
- Cement Pipes
- Cement Wallboard
- HVAC Duct Insulation
- Cement Siding
- Boiler Insulation
- Asphalt Floor Tile
- Vinyl Floor Tile
- Ductwork Flexible Fabric Connections
- Vinyl Sheet Flooring
- Cooling Towers
- Flooring Backing
- Pipe Insulation (corrugated air-cell, block, etc.)
- Construction Mastics (floor tile, carpet, ceiling tile, etc.)
- Heating and Electrical Ducts
- Acoustical Plaster
- Electrical Panel Partitions
- Decorative Plaster
- Electrical Cloth
- Textured Paints/Coatings
- Ceiling Tiles and Lay-in Panels
- Spray-Applied Insulation
- Roofing Shingles
- Blown-in Insulation
- Roofing Felt
- Fireproofing Materials
- Taping Compounds (thermal)
- Thermal Paper Products
- Packing Materials (for wall/floor penetrations)
- Fire Doors
- High Temperature Gaskets
- Joint Compounds
- Fire Curtains
Homeowners rarely understand the process for asbestos abatement. But it can be an essential consideration for those who face the risks of asbestos containing materials. Abatement removal is when teams eliminate asbestos from the home to ensure property safety. Precision Environmental will highlight abatement and the steps required to remove asbestos from the property safely.
- First Testing | Before any asbestos can be removed, the material is tested. That’s because the removal process involves tearing apart the property to remove the toxic material. Once the material has been tested and proven that asbestos is present, all people and animals are removed from the property.
- Containment Barriers | Our teams will begin by sealing off the area of the home in which they find the asbestos. This ensures that the asbestos doesn’t spread throughout the property. Next, they’ll use tape, a particular film to seal, and a pressure machine to provide negative air pressure within the affected area. This further ensures that asbestos cannot move from its current location.
- Asbestos Abatement or Asbestos Encapsulation | These terms are thrown around the asbestos industry daily but may not mean much to the average consumer. Asbestos Abatement is another term for Asbestos Removal. It is precisely as it sounds, the asbestos is removed from the building component, etc. The advantage of asbestos removal or abatement is that you do not have to deal with the asbestos again after it's removed. Asbestos Encapsulation is a term used when asbestos is left in place but covered with a protective barrier to reduce the risk of asbestos exposure when around this asbestos. The advantage of asbestos encapsulation is that you typically save time and money upfront, but the disadvantage is that the asbestos is not gone, and you will likely have to deal with it again.
- Vacuum Process | Precision Environmental will then use a HEPA vacuum to ensure that any leftover remnants are removed from the property and that all residents are safe to return.