Asbestos is a naturally occurring group of fibrous minerals. It was added to many building materials because it is heat and chemical resistant, strong, and not easily degraded.
Asbestos was widely used in building materials prior to 1980. Asbestos containing materials can also be found in building materials used after 1980, although it is rare. Asbestos is primarily found in insulation around pipes, ducts, and tanks. Other asbestos containing materials include sprayed-on fireproofing, troweled-on plaster, fire doors, wallboard, fume hood linings, linoleum, laboratory countertops, and floor tiles.
Asbestos becomes a concern when fibers become airborne. Materials that can be crumbled or reduced to powder by hand pressure are considered to be "friable", meaning they have the potential to become airborne. Intact, sealed, and undisturbed materials do not present an exposure risk. When materials are exposed or disturbed, asbestos fibers can become airborne, and exposure may result from fibers being inhaled. Studies have shown that some individuals exposed to asbestos fibers have developed lung cancer, asbestosis (scarring of the lungs), and mesothelioma (cancer of the lining of the lung or abdomen). These diseases have generally been observed after long-term exposures from activities that directly disturb asbestos containing materials (ACM). Typically, the diseases do not develop until 10 to 40 years after exposure.
The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) recommends that building owners develop a pro-active, in-place management program rather than requiring removal of all asbestos materials. This strategy involves identifying ACM, maintaining those materials in good condition and removing ACM as needed during maintenance or renovation activities.
Refer to the EHS Asbestos Management Program for more information.
Asbestos Fibers at High Magnification