Asbestos refers to a group of six types of naturally occurring, fibrous minerals that are resistant to fire, heat, and chemical reactions. These minerals are chrysotile, amosite, tremolite, actinolite, anthophyllite, and crocidolite. Asbestos was once known as the “miracle mineral.” Because of its fireproof characteristics, it was used in roofing shingles, fireproof protective gear, insulation, and other building materials.
Types of Asbestos
Serpentine and Amphibole asbestos are the two categories that the six asbestos types are divided into. Chrysotile is made up of long, curly fibers and is in the Serpentine group. The remaining five types are in the Amphibole category. These are amosite, tremolite, actinolite, anthophyllite, and crocidolite. They appear as brittle, needle-shaped fibers, making them more harmful to the lungs, and more unsuited for commercial use. The words “friable” and “non-friable” are used to define which asbestos-containing materials are safe or hazardous. A friable asbestos-containing material contains more than one percent asbestos and can be crushed to powder in your hand. A non-friable asbestos-containing material contains more than one percent asbestos, but it cannot be crushed to powder in your hand. There are two categories of non-friable material. Category one consists of gaskets, floor coverings, and asphalt roofing material. Category two consists of any non-friable asbestos-containing materials that are not included in the first category.
History Of Asbestos
The ancient Greeks, Egyptians, and Romans hailed these minerals for their fire-resistant properties. They were used in many woven materials and even in the embalming of the Egyptians’ pharaohs. Its use in manufacturing took off during the Industrial Revolution when factories became prevalent in many cities. Factories produced many goods made with asbestos, such as steam engine insulation, fire-proofing materials for ships, and automobile parts. Chrysotile was used the most in American-made products. Amosite was used for almost all insulation. Crocidolite is less heat-resistant, and therefore it was not used as widely. Tremolite was used in products like paints and sealants. Anthophyllite is more rare to find, but can be found in products that contain vermiculite and talc. Actinolite was useful for insulation, concrete materials, and even gardening.
Health Dangers of Asbestos
Eventually, certain health problems were linked to exposure to asbestos, causing this “miracle mineral” to be classified as a known carcinogen. Consider these three types of exposure:
- Occupational asbestos exposure – exposure in hazardous work environments, such as power plants and construction sites.
- Secondary asbestos exposure – exposure at home due to a family member bringing it home on his person.
- Environmental asbestos exposure – exposure from inhaling or ingesting naturally occurring asbestos.
Asbestos mining can pollute the air and soil, causing environmental asbestos exposure to take place in the surrounding area. Once these fibers are ingested or inhaled, they accumulate in the lungs’ or abdomen’s soft tissue. Unfortunately, these fibers are very hard for the body to eliminate. When the body is unable to expel these fibers, it becomes at risk for lung cancer, pleural mesothelioma, and asbestosis. It takes time for symptoms of these diseases to fully manifest. The latency period can last anywhere from 10 years to 50 years. This means that those who were exposed prior to the 1980s may begin showing symptoms now. Therefore, the number of plueral mesothelioma cases is expected to now be at its peak until the year 2020.
Instead of banning asbestos entirely, the United States has only passed legislation that limits exposure to this harmful substance. By the 1970s, Australia’s concern about the health dangers associated with asbestos increased. They ceased its mining in the year 1983, discontinued its use in 1989, and banned asbestos completely in the year 2003. In 1985, the United Kingdom banned its use and import, specifically crocidolite and amosite. Because of the health dangers of asbestos and the banning of its use in other countries, Canada is planning to also fully ban it in 2018.
It is extremely important that you have your house tested if you plan on remodeling your home, as remodeling will disturb the asbestos-containing building materials. Also, if building materials of your home have been damaged, it is recommended that you have a professional test your home for asbestos. The only way to diagnose asbestos is in a laboratory. The professional will spray the suspected material in your house with water to keep the fibers from spreading. He will cut into the material to retrieve a sample, and place it into a sealed container for the lab. If you are not planning to remodel your home, or if your house’s building materials are in good condition and not damaged, it is better to leave it alone and not have testing done. Disturbing asbestos-containing materials in any way may release the harmful fibers, posing a risk to you and your family’s health.
To remove it from your home requires two steps. The first step is to have the suspected asbestos-containing material tested. The second step is having it removed professionally. In some cases, the material can just be encapsulated to prevent the fibers from spreading. Contact your Occupational Safety and Health Administration’s office to be informed of your local regulations. They will be able to recommend to you a trained inspector who is licensed to test and remove the substance. It is most likely that during this process, you and your family will need to temporarily move out of your house to avoid the risk of inhaling the fibers. The professionals will wet the materials and place them into sealed containers or bags that are taken to the nearest landfill. Normally these bags or containers are labeled before they are disposed.
These bags or containers are best disposed of by burial at a landfill. There are three types of landfills:
- Municipal landfill – handles small volumes of asbestos-containing materials.
- Commercial landfill – handles larger amounts of materials, such as those from contractors.
- Unlimited service area landfill – handles large amounts of asbestos-containing materials. Some unlimited service area landfills may require the materials shipped in bulk, and will not receive smaller quantities.
These containers or bags of materials to be disposed of must be undamaged, and clearly labeled with “Caution; Contains Asbestos; Avoid Opening or Breaking the Container; Breathing Asbestos Is Hazardous to Your Health.” Loads of the materials that do not meet these requirements will be refused by the landfill’s personnel.
It is unfortunate that what was once a popular building material actually causes fatal health problems and diseases. This substance is yet to be banned in many areas, and is still present in many homes today. Be cautious before attempting a construction project on your house, or replacing walls, pipes, and other building materials. Have your home tested if you know your house was built before legislation of regulating or banning this substance was passed. This will prevent you and your family from being at risk of asbestos-related health conditions.