Asbestos fibers as seen under a TEM microscope.

Asbestos is a general name given to a group of minerals naturally occurring rock and soil. These fibers strengthen some building materials. Also used as a heat retardant.

Where can asbestos be found?

Because of its strength, thermal insulation, heat resistance, chemical stability, and high tensile strength, asbestos has been utilized in the manufacture of a wide variety of building construction materials. Due to its heat-resistant qualities, it is often found in fireproofing and insulation materials. Due to its strength and resilience, it can also be found in load-bearing cement and resilient flooring tiles. Due to its acoustical properties, it can also be found in acoustical ceiling plaster and ceiling tiles.

Asbestos exposure

If a suspect asbestos-containing material is intact and no disturbance (renovation/repair/etc.) is planned, then asbestos is normally unable to become airborne and pose a hazard. In the asbestos industry, the terms friable and non-friable are used to indicate the resilience of an asbestos-containing material.

  • Friable – able to be reduced to powder by hand pressure.
  • Non-friable – solid enough to maintain structure without being reduced to powder by hand pressure.

Materials that were installed/manufactured and are non-friable can become friable with age, damage, deterioration, or methods of disturbance.

Asbestos health effects

Asbestos exposure increases the risk of developing lung diseases including:

  • Lung Cancer
  • Mesothelioma
  • Asbestosis

There has been no safe level of exposure for asbestos. Much like any poison, the likelihood of developing negative health effects is linked to dose and duration of exposure. The latency period of asbestos exposure to the time illness develops is approximately 15-30 year for a smoker and 20-40 years for a non-smoker.

Please see: Asbestos Exposure and Cancer Risk

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When is Asbestos Testing Needed?