Asbestos has been used through out the world because of its unique qualities. Itís heat resistant, corrosion resistant, fire resistant, strong, flexible, and doesnít conduct electricity. The earliest known use of asbestos may have been coating candlewicks. The wicks would burn longer with the asbestos coating. From the 1950ís through the 1970ís asbestos was used in thousands of building materials. Asbestos is present in some types of insulation, fabrics, adhesives, and numerous other ACM (Asbestos Containing Material). After it was proven to create health risks, most products stopped using asbestos in its hazardous form.
Asbestos can be classified as friable or non-friable. Friable asbestos is more dangerous than non-friable asbestos because it crumbles easily, and it can therefore become airborne faster and longer. Real damage can transpire over time if the fibers are inhaled. These fibers are shaped like fishhooks and can attach to the lungs and/or other organs. After prolonged exposure the body canít break down these fibers. The health risks include asbestosis, mesothelima, and lung cancer. Most symptoms from exposure donít arise for 20 to 50 years.
Some people exposed to asbestos develop asbestos-related health problems; some do not. Once inhaled, asbestos fibers can easily penetrate body tissues. They may be deposited and retained in the airways and lung tissue. Because asbestos fibers remain in the body, each exposure increases the likelihood of developing an asbestos-related disease. Asbestos related diseases may not appear until years after exposure. Today we are seeing results of exposure among asbestos workers during World War II. A medical examination which includes a medical history, breathing capacity test and chest x-ray may detect problems early. Scientists have not been able to develop a "safe" or threshold level for exposure to airborne asbestos. Ingesting asbestos may be harmful, but the consequences of this type of exposure have not been clearly documented. Nor have the effects of skin exposure to asbestos been documented. People who touch asbestos may get a rash similar to the rash caused by fiberglass.
What is Asbestos?
Asbestosis is a serious, chronic, non-cancerous respiratory disease. Inhaled asbestos fibers aggravate lung tissues, which causes them to scar. Symptoms of asbestosis include shortness of breath and a dry crackling sound in the lungs while inhaling. In its advanced stages, the disease may cause cardiac failure.
There is no effective treatment for asbestosis; the disease is usually disabling or fatal. The risk of asbestosis is minimal for those who do not work with asbestos; the disease is rarely caused by neighborhood or family exposure. Those who renovate or demolish buildings that contain asbestos may be at significant risk, depending on the nature of the exposure and precautions taken.
Lung cancer causes the largest number of deaths related to asbestos exposure. The incidence of lung cancer in people who are directly involved in the mining, milling, manufacturing and use of asbestos and its products is much higher than in the general population. The most common symptoms of lung cancer are coughing and a change in breathing. Other symptoms include shortness of breath, persistent chest pains, hoarseness, and anemia.
People who have been exposed to asbestos and are also exposed to some other carcinogen -- such as cigarette smoke -- have a significantly greater risk of developing lung cancer than people who have only been exposed to asbestos. One study found that asbestos workers who smoke are about 90 times more likely to develop lung cancer than people who neither smoke nor have been exposed to asbestos.
Mesothelioma is a rare form of cancer which most often occurs in the thin membrane lining of the lungs, chest, abdomen, and (rarely) heart. About 200 cases are diagnosed each year in the United States. Virtually all cases of mesothelioma are linked with asbestos exposure. Approximately 2 percent of all miners and textile workers who work with asbestos, and 10 percent of all workers who were involved in the manufacture of asbestos-containing gas masks, contract mesothelioma.
People who work in asbestos mines, asbestos mills and factories, and shipyards that use asbestos, as well as people who manufacture and install asbestos insulation, have an increased risk of mesothelioma. So do people who live with asbestos workers, near asbestos mining areas, near asbestos product factories or near shipyards where use of asbestos has produced large quantities of airborne asbestos fibers.
The younger people are when they inhale asbestos, the more likely they are to develop mesothelioma. This is why enormous efforts are being made to prevent school children from being exposed.
Evidence suggests that cancers in the esophagus, larynx, oral cavity, stomach, colon and kidney may be caused by ingesting asbestos. For more information on asbestos-related cancers, contact your local chapter of the American Cancer Society.
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) are responsible for regulating environmental exposure and protecting workers from asbestos exposure. OSHA is responsible for the health and safety of workers who may be exposed to asbestos in the work place, or in connection with their jobs. EPA is responsible for developing and enforcing regulations necessary to protect the general public from exposure to airborne contaminants that are known to be hazardous to human health.
The EPA's Worker Protection Rule (40 CFR Part 763, Subpart G) extends the OSHA standards to state and local employees who perform asbestos work and who are not covered by the OSHA Asbestos Standards, or by a state OSHA plan. The Rule parallels OSHA requirements and covers medical examinations, air monitoring and reporting, protective equipment, work practices, and record keeping. In addition, many State and local agencies have more stringent standards than those required by the Federal government. People who plan to renovate or remove asbestos from a building of a certain size, or who plan to demolish any building, are required to notify the appropriate federal, state and local agencies, and to follow all federal, state, and local requirements for removal and disposal of regulated asbestos-containing material (RACM).
EPA's advice on asbestos is neither to rip it all out in a panic nor to ignore the problem under a false presumption that asbestos is "risk free." Rather, EPA recommends a practical approach that protects public health by emphasizing that asbestos material in buildings should be located, that it should be appropriately managed, and that those workers who may disturb it should be properly trained and protected. That has been, and continues to be, EPA's position. The following summarizes the five major facts that the Agency has presented in congressional testimony:
FACT ONE: Although asbestos is hazardous, human risk of asbestos disease depends upon exposure.
FACT TWO: Prevailing asbestos levels in buildings -- the levels school children and you and I face as building occupants -- seem to be very low, based upon available data. Accordingly, the health risk we face as building occupants also appears to be very low.
FACT THREE: Removal is often not a school district's or other building owner's best course of action to reduce asbestos exposure. In fact, an improper removal can create a dangerous situation where none previously existed.
FACT FOUR: EPA only requires asbestos removal in order to prevent significant public exposure to asbestos, such as during building renovation or demolition.
FACT FIVE: EPA does recommend in-place management whenever asbestos is discovered. Instead of removal, a conscientious in- place management program will usually control fiber releases, particularly when the materials are not significantly damaged and are not likely to be disturbed.
Asbestos is a mineral. It is mined in much the same way that other minerals, such as iron, lead, and copper, are. Asbestos is composed of silicon, oxygen, hydrogen, and various metal cations (positively charged metal ions). There are many varieties of asbestos: the three most common are chrysotile, amosite, and crocidolite. Chrysotile fibers are pliable and cylindrical, and often arranged in bundles. Amosite and crocidolite fibers are like tiny needles. The first commercial asbestos mine -- a chrysotile mine -- opened in Quebec, Canada, in the 1870's. Crocidolite asbestos was first mined in South Africa during the 1980's. Amosite asbestos also comes from Africa and was first mined in 1916. Unlike most minerals, which turn into dust particles when crushed, asbestos breaks up into fine fibers that are too small to be seen by the human eye. Often individual fibers are mixed with a material that binds them together, producing asbestos containing material (ACM).
One study estimated that 3,000 different types of commercial products contained asbestos. The amount of asbestos in each product varied from as little as one percent to as much as 100 percent. Many older plastics, paper products, brake linings, floor tiles and textile products contain asbestos, as do many heavy industrial products such as sealants, cement pipe, cement sheets, and insulation. The final Asbestos Ban and Phaseout Rule prohibits the manufacture, processing and importation of most asbestos products.
When asbestos fibers are in the air, people may inhale them. Because asbestos fibers are small and light, they can stay in the air for a long time.
People whose work brings them into contact with asbestos -- workers who renovate buildings with asbestos in them, for example -- may inhale fibers that are in the air: this is called occupational exposure. Workers' families may inhale asbestos fibers released by clothes that have been in contact with ACM: this is called paraoccupational exposure. People who live or work near asbestos- related operations may inhale asbestos fibers that have been released into the air by the operations: this is called neighborhood exposure.
The amount of asbestos a worker is exposed to will vary according to
It is estimated that between 1940 and 1980, 27 million Americans had significant occupational exposure to asbestos. People may also ingest asbestos if they eat in areas where there are asbestos fibers in the air.
Damaged ACM is more likely to release fibers than non-damaged ACM. In a 1984 survey, EPA found that approximately 66 percent of those buildings that contained asbestos contained damaged ACM. If ACM, when dry, can be crumbled by hand pressure -- a condition known as "friable" -- it is more likely to release fibers than if it is "non-friable." Fluffy, spray-applied asbestos fireproofing material is generally considered "friable." Some materials which are considered "non-friable," such as vinyl-asbestos floor tile, can also release fibers when sanded, sawed or otherwise aggressively disturbed. Materials such as asbestos cement pipe can release asbestos fibers if broken or crushed when buildings are demolished, renovated or repaired. ACM which is in a heavy traffic area, and which is therefore often disturbed, is more likely to release fibers than ACM in a relatively undisturbed area.
While it is often possible to "suspect" that a material or product is/or contains asbestos by visual determination, actual determinations can only be made by instrumental analysis. Until a product is tested, it is best to assume that the product contains asbestos, unless the label, or the manufacturer verifies that it does not.
The EPA requires that the asbestos content of suspect materials be determined by collecting bulk samples and analyzing them by polarized light microscopy (PLM). The PLM technique determines both the percent and type of asbestos in the bulk material. EPA Regional Offices can provide information about laboratories that test for asbestos.
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