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General information regarding asbestos.

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What is asbestos?

Asbestos is a naturally occurring fibrous mineral. There are two groups of asbestos minerals, Serpentines and Amphiboles. Approximately 95% of all asbestos found in buildings is called Chrysotile, the only asbestos mineral in the Serpentine group. Other more commonly found asbestos minerals are Amosite, Crocidolite, and Tremolite - all found within the Amphibole group. Less common asbestos minerals are of little commercial value and are usually only found as contaminants in asbestos-containing materials, if at all.

What make asbestos a valuable commodity?

Asbestos is cost effective, fire resistant, has high tensile strength, and is a very poor heat, electrical, and sound conductor. Because of these properties, asbestos is found as an insulating wrap around building components such as pipes, heating units, and electrical wires, and in roof tiles, building siding, fireproofing, and acoustical ceiling texture (see list of common asbestos asbestos products below). 

What are the uses of asbestos?

It is estimated that asbestos has been used in over 3000 products. Collectively, these products are known as asbestos-containing material (ACM). The most common applications of asbestos found in residential buildings are identified below:

  • Roof mastic
  • Sprayed-on acoustical ceiling texture
  • Vinyl floor tile and associated adhesive
  • Pipe insulation and elbow packing
  • HVAC duct insulation
  • Cement products such as siding, roof shingles, and pipes
  • Window putty
  • Stucco
  • Joint Compound

There are many other uses for asbestos that can be found in structures.

When is asbestos dangerous?

In general, asbestos is dangerous when it becomes airborne. Asbestos becomes airborne when an asbestos product is disturbed. Renovation and demolition activities are obvious situations where asbestos products are disturbed. However, other less obvious scenarios such as an earthquake, strong air current, sanding, and abrasive foot traffic can release asbestos fibers into the air. Asbestos can also be ingested or absorbed into skin (usually only documented with asbestos removal workers).

Are asbestos products still used today in the United States?

Yes. Many of the original restrictions placed on the commerce and use of asbestos products authorized by the U.S. EPA under the authority of the Clean Air Act (NESHAP) and the Toxic Substances Control Act were later repealed or revised. The only U.S. EPA bans remaining today are identified below:

  • Corrugated paper
  • Rollboard
  • Commercial paper
  • Specialty paper
  • Flooring felt
  • Wet-applied and pre-formed pipe insulation
  • Pre-formed block insulation on boilers and hot water tanks
  • Most sprayed-on surfacing material (some exceptions apply)
  • New uses of asbestos are not allowed

The U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission has bans on two additional uses of asbestos products:

  • Patching compounds
  • Artificial ash and embers for fireplaces

In summary, it is perfectly legal to mine, manufacture, process, import and export, distribute, sell, and use most asbestos-containing products under existing federal law with the exception of those identified above.

How do I know if a product contains asbestos? 

Contact the manufacturer, dealer, or supplier of the product. Another option is to refer to the product's material safety data sheet (MSDS). If that is not feasible you may want to consider having the product sampled by an asbestos professional. If conducting a demolition or renovation, federal and state law requires that an asbestos survey be conducted prior to disturbing the subject areas.


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