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Asbestos Frequently Asked Questions

What is asbestos?

Asbestos is the name for a group of naturally occurring minerals. They were once lauded for their versatility and recognized for their heat resistance, tensile strength, and insulating properties. Its properties were so desired that they were used for everything from fire-proof vests to home and commercial construction.

How can asbestos affect my health?

There are six types of asbestos minerals according to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). Approximately 90% of the asbestos used commercially in the world is Chrysolite. Although, all forms of asbestos are highly toxic and scientific studies on them have proven all commercial forms of asbestos are carcinogenic. Asbestos is all around us and most people are exposed to small amounts of these materials everyday. However, in small amounts asbestos does not become life threatening. But when asbestos is disturbed (sawed, scraped or sanded into a powder) the material releases asbestos fibers which can be easily inhaled into the lungs. This is when it is more likely to cause hazardous health problems.

Where can I find asbestos and when can it be a problem?

Until the 1970's, many types of building projects and insulation materials used in homes contained asbestos. Today, products made with asbestos are banned in more than 50 countries. Those countries that have not banned these products have dramatically reduced their usage. Those few products which still contain asbestos that could potentially be inhaled are required to be labeled as such.
Common products that may have been made with asbestos materials include insulation, soundproofing, decorative materials sprayed onto walls and ceilings, hot water and steam pipes and furnace ducts!

What should be done about asbestos in the home?

Many homes built in the US prior to 1980 likely contain asbestos. Your home is likely to be counted among these, but don't panic! Usually, the best solution is to leave the asbestos material "that is in good condition" alone. Remember, asbestos material in good condition will not release asbestos fibers. So there is no danger unless these fibers are inhaled into the lungs. However, if the materials in your home have deteriorated over time, or you have planned a remodel or renovation that requires disturbance of these products, you need to have a professional that has been trained in identification and removal of these materials, survey your home. The US EPA began training and certifying professionals in asbestos identification and removal in the late 1980's. There are some state and local governments that also require training and certification courses. Your local state health department or EPA office may have listings of professionals that fit this criteria in your area.
Due to the potential health risk that disturbance of asbestos materials pose, ask asbestos professionals for documentation of their completed federal or state-approved training. Each person performing work in your home should provide proof of training or licensing in asbestos work.
For more information, see the EPA's Asbestos Information Resources.
The above information is provided as a public service by the Environmental Protection Agency for educational purposes.
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