What Is Asbestos?

What is asbestos? An explanation of the mineral asbestos. Asbestos is a mineral fiber with mud that was formerly used as an insulating product in a variety of building construction materials and as a fire...

Asbestos is a mineral fiber with mud that was formerly used as an insulating product in a variety of building construction materials and as a fire retardant, says Kevin Lynch, operations manager of Jendco Safety, which sells asbestos removal equipment.

"It's a great insulator with a great ability to maintain hot and cold," he says. According to Epa.gov, in the late 1970's the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and Consumer Product Safety Commission banned asbestos because it was deemed harmful to people.

Today, asbestos is commonly found in older homes, in pipe and furnace insulation materials, asbestos shingles, millboard, textured paints and other coating materials, and floor tiles. Asbestos is still being made in Canada because that is where it is mined. It may still be used elsewhere in the world but not in the United States, says Lynch. According to Epa.gov, elevated concentrations of airborne asbestos can occur after materials containing asbestos are cut, sanded, or torn down. When these materials are improperly removed, asbestos fibers are released into the air in homes, increasing asbestos levels and harming people living in these homes.

Materials containing asbestos are usually diteriated, damaged, or disturbed insulation, fireproofing and acoustical materials, and floor tiles. For asbestos to be detected, you should have a consultant look at it. Also, every owner of a home built prior to the 70's should have a general knowledge about it. Asbestos was primarily used from about 1940 to 1970. If a house has floor tiles or linoleum from those periods, it's very likely they will have asbestos in it. All systems from those years are very likely to have asbestos, and slate tiles are very likely to have asbestos.

"If your house is older than that and the plaster is from the teens, it is more likely to have horsehair in the plaster, not asbestos," says Lynch. It depends on the actual year the building's products were made in the house. There are certain clues to look for without having a consultant, but in most of the houses built after 1985 or so, the potential exists for testing asbestos products.

If a house does contain asbestos, don't panic or try to remove it because that will only create more harm. It is best to leave asbestos material that is in good condition alone. If the material is not damaged, then more than likely it will not release asbestos fiber. Asbestos does not harm a person until fibers are released and inhaled into the lungs.

"Leave undamaged material alone, to the extent possible, prevent them from being damaged, disturbed, or touched," the website says.

If asbestos is going to be removed, hire a professionally trained contractor. Select an individual only after a careful interview has been conducted and check to see if the contractor is a licensed individual. Ask the individual if he will clean up and remove the discarded items. There are specialized equipment and methods used to contain the asbestos while it is being removed to minimize airborne particles of asbestos. Respiratory equipment and proper protective equipment needs to be worn, such as suits, gloves, boots, mask, or dual cartridge mask .The clothing worn at the time of removal should be discarded.

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