Four asbestos-related questions answered so you can be more aware of this group of naturally-occuring mineral fibers.
Once called the “magic mineral” for its insulating and heat-resistant properties, asbestos was long viewed as a modern marvel. But we now know that this fibrous material is far from magical—it’s toxic and can cause health problems.
So, what exactly is asbestos? And where can it be found in your home? Read on for a breakdown of this natural-occurring mineral.
Asbestos is actually a group of minerals—six different fibrous silicate minerals, in fact. The main forms of asbestos are chrysotile (white asbestos) and crocidolite (blue asbestos). Others include amosite, anthophyllite, tremolite and actinolite.
Found in rocks and soil, asbestos was mined from the Earth for centuries. The natural-occurring mineral fibers were tapped by the manufacturing industries for many reasons. Their structure consists of bundles of long, thin fibers, which can be easily pulled apart. And they’re resistant to heat, chemicals and electricity.
Due to those “magic” properties, asbestos was widely used to make construction materials, automotive parts and textiles. Some examples of items that have used asbestos:
In the 1970s, the use of asbestos was restricted but not banned in the U.S., which means asbestos continues to be used in numerous consumer products.
When asbestos-containing materials are damaged or disturbed by repair, remodeling or demolition activities, the fibers separate into microscopic pieces, become airborne and can be inhaled into the lungs. As cited by the World Health Organization (WHO), all forms of asbestos are proven to be carcinogenic, causing health issues such as mesothelioma, asbestosis and lung and laryngeal cancers, as well as ovarian, gastrointestinal and other cancers.*
First, don’t panic. According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, asbestos-containing materials that aren’t damaged are not likely to present a health risk. They recommend to leave the material alone if in good condition—because if it’s not disturbed or damaged, the fibers won’t be released. If you see signs of wear, cuts, tears and scraps on the item, limit your access to the area. If you’re planning to make changes in your home to the asbestos-containing area, repair (with a sealant or protective coverings) or removal by a trained and accredited asbestos professional is needed.**