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Asbestos FAQs

Asbestos is a naturally occurring mineral, and deposits of asbestos are found throughout the world, including the United States. Once mined, asbestos rocks are crushed and milled, and the resulting fibers have been used in various products.

What kind of products contain asbestos?

Because of its unique properties of heat and fire resistance, high tensile strength, poor electrical conductivity, and chemical resistance, asbestos proved well suited for construction purposes. It has been used in thousands of products, including fireproofing, pipe insulation, floor tiles, ceiling tiles, acoustical plaster, laboratory countertops, siding shingles, roofing materials, brake shoes, gaskets, and construction adhesives.

How can you tell if something contains asbestos?

In most instances, microscopic analysis is the only definitive method for determining whether or not a product contains asbestos. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has defined an asbestos-containing material (ACM) as a material containing more than 1% asbestos.

When is asbestos dangerous?

Asbestos is most hazardous when it is friable. “Friable" means that it is easily crumbled by hand, releasing fibers into the air. Sprayed-on asbestos insulation is highly friable. Asbestos floor tile is not.

Asbestos-containing materials are not considered dangerous if they are undisturbed and in good condition. If asbestos is disturbed or damaged, the risk of exposure increases. Dust containing microscopic asbestos fibers can become airborne, which increases the chance that the fibers can be inhaled or ingested.

Why is asbestos harmful?

If inhaled, airborne asbestos fibers can become lodged in lung tissue and cause scarring. This condition is known as asbestosis. Asbestosis is not a cancer, but asbestos exposure has also been linked to lung cancer and mesothelioma. People who smoke and are exposed to asbestos are at higher risk of developing lung cancer. 

What is the risk for asbestos-related disease?

The vast majority of people who have developed an asbestos-related disease have experienced an occupational exposure, where they have breathed millions of fibers per day for many months or years, due to the requirements of their job. It can typically be decades before symptoms develop.