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What Is Asbestos?
Asbestos is a mineral fiber that can be identified only with a special type of microscope. There are several types of asbestos fibers. In the past, asbestos was added to a variety of products to strengthen them and to provide heat insulation and fire resistance.
How Can Asbestos Affect Human Health?
Breathing high levels of asbestos fibers can lead to an increased risk of lung cancer in the forms of mesothelioma, which is a cancer of the lining of the chest, and asbestosis, in which the lungs become scarred with fibrous tissue.
The risk of lung cancer and mesothelioma increase with the number of fibers inhaled. The risk of lung cancer from inhaling asbestos fibers is also greater if you smoke. People who get asbestosis have usually been exposed to high levels of asbestos for a long time. The symptoms of these diseases do not usually appear until about 20 to 30 years after the first exposure to asbestos.
Most people exposed to small amounts of asbestos, as we all are in our daily lives, do not develop these health problems. However, if disturbed, asbestos material may release asbestos fibers, which can be inhaled into the lungs. The fibers can remain there for a long time, increasing the risk of disease. Asbestos material that would crumble easily if handled, or that has been sawed, scraped, or sanded into a powder, is more likely to create a health hazard.
Where Would Asbestos Be Found, and When Can it Be a Problem?
Most products made today do not contain asbestos. However, until the 1970s, many types of building products and insulation materials used in homes contained asbestos.
Common products that might have contained asbestos in the past, include:
What Should Be Done About Asbestos in the Home?
If you think asbestos may be in your home, don’t panic. Usually, the best thing to do is to leave asbestos material that is in good condition alone. Generally, material in good condition will not release asbestos fibers. There is no danger unless the asbestos is disturbed and fibers are released and then inhaled into the lungs. Check material regularly if you suspect it may contain asbestos. Don’t touch it, but look for signs of wear or damage, such as tears, abrasions or water damage. Damaged material may release asbestos fibers. This is particularly true if you often disturb it by hitting, rubbing or handling it, or if it is exposed to extreme vibration or air flow.
How to Identify Materials That Contain Asbestos
You can’t tell whether a material contains asbestos simply by looking at it, unless it is labeled. If in doubt, treat the material as if it contains asbestos, or have it sampled and analyzed by a qualified professional.
How to Manage an Asbestos Problem
If the asbestos material is in good shape and will not be disturbed, do nothing! If it is a problem, there are two types of corrections: repair and removal. Repair usually involves either sealing or covering asbestos material. Sealing (encapsulation) involves treating the material with a sealant that either binds the asbestos fibers together or coats the material so that fibers are not released. Most people prefer complete removal and should be performed by a professional. This is the most expensive option.
Buying an Older Home
A house built before the 1970’s will typically have some asbestos. A professional home inspector will inspect the attic of your prospective purchase and if they see Vermiculite they should let you know.
The only way to know if Vermiculite contains asbestos is to have it tested and when in doubt its best to treat it as if it’s asbestos.
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