Most products made today do not contain asbestos. But some common products that might have contained asbestos in the past are:
- Steam pipes, boilers, and furnace ducts insulated with an asbestos blanket or asbestos paper tape
- Resilient floor tiles (vinyl asbestos, asphalt, and rubber), the packing on vinyl sheet flooring, and adhesives used for installing floor tile
- Cement sheet, millboard, and paper used as insulation around furnaces and wood burning stoves
- Door gaskets in furnaces, wood stoves, and coal stoves– Worn seals can release asbestos fibers during use.
- Soundproofing or decorative spray on walls and ceilings
- Patching and joint compounds for walls and ceilings and textured paints
- Asbestos cement roofing, shingles, and siding
- Artificial ashes and embers sold for use in gas-fired fireplaces
- Automobile brake pads and linings, clutch facings, and gaskets
Asbestos is the name given to a number of naturally occurring fibrous minerals with high tensile strength, the ability to be woven, and resistance to heat and most chemicals. Because of these properties, asbestos has been used in more than 3,000 different products over the last 100 years. Asbestos-containing materials are frequently encountered in a wide range of environments including but not limited to industrial and commercial facilities, schools and universities, and residential properties.
Most products made today do not contain asbestos, and anything containing asbestos that could be inhaled is required to be labeled as such. However, until the 1970s, many types of building products and insulation materials contained asbestos.
These materials may release asbestos fibers if damaged, repaired, or removed improperly. Loose, crumbly, or water-damaged material can release asbestos fibers as well as cutting, tearing, sanding, drilling, or sawing materials that may contain asbestos.
Nationwide, an estimated 1.3 million employees in construction and general industry potentially face significant asbestos exposure on the job. Heaviest exposures occur in the construction industry, particularly during building renovation or demolition activities where asbestos is disturbed or removed. Employees may also be exposed during custodial/maintenance activities in a building containing asbestos, during the manufacture of asbestos products (such as textiles, friction products, insulation, and other building materials), and during automotive brake and clutch repair work.
In general the greater the exposure to asbestos, the greater the chance of developing harmful health effects. Disease symptoms may take several years to develop following exposure, and continued exposure can increase the amount of fibers that remain in the lung. Fibers embedded in lung tissue over time may cause serious lung diseases including asbestosis, lung cancer, or mesothelioma. Smoking increases the risk of developing illness from asbestos exposure.
Three of the major health effects associated with asbestos exposure include:
Asbestosis: This serious, progressive, long-term non-cancer disease of the lung is caused by inhaling asbestos fibers that irritate lung tissues and cause the tissues to scar. The scarring makes it hard for oxygen to get into the blood. Symptoms of asbestosis include shortness of breath and a dry, crackling sound in the lungs while inhaling. There is no effective treatment for asbestosis.
Lung Cancer: The largest number of deaths related to asbestos exposure are caused by lung cancer. People who work in mining, milling, and manufacturing of asbestos are more likely to develop lung cancer than 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.
Mesothelioma: Mesothelioma is a rare form of cancer that is found in the thin lining (membrane) of the lung, chest, abdomen, and heart, and almost all cases are linked to asbestos exposure. This disease may not show up until many years after asbestos exposure, which is why great efforts are being made to prevent school children from being exposed.