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What is Asbestos?
What are the Health Affects of Asbestos?
Where is Asbestos in the Home?
What to do with Asbestos in the Home?
What is Asbestos?
Asbestos is multiple mineral fibers that occur naturally in the environment. The fibers are strong, durable, and resistant to heat and fire. In the past, asbestos was regularly used in building materials especially for its usefulness in fireproofing and insulation. It poses health risks only when the fibers are loosened and become airborne allowing intake into the lungs through breathing.
What are the Health Affects of Asbestos?
Breathing high levels of asbestos fibers can lead to an increased risk of lung cancer; mesothelioma, a cancer of the lining of the chest and the abdominal cavity; pleural plaque, a fibrous thickening of the lining of the chest cavity; and asbestosis, in which the lungs become scarred with fibrous tissue. These risks were determined from studies of workers exposed to asbestos in shipyards and factories. Asbestos fiber amounts for these workers were much higher than those encountered by the general public. Symptoms do not usually appear until 15 to 30 years after the first exposure. Ultimately, asbestos poses a health risk with significant and prolonged exposure. With this type of exposure the fibers may be inhaled and become lodged in tissue for an extended period of time. After many years cancer or mesothelioma can develop.
Where is Asbestos in the Home?
Until the 1970s, many types of building products and insulation materials used in homes contained asbestos. If a product contains asbestos today it will be labeled. The following may have contained asbestos in the past, and may still be present in older homes:
  • Insulation for steam pipes, furnace ducts and boilers
  • Patching and joint compounds
  • Sprayed-on fire proofing and insulation
  • Wall and ceiling insulation
  • Door gaskets in furnaces, wood stoves, and coal stoves
  • Ceiling tiles
  • Floor tiles (such as asphalt, rubber and the backing on vinyl)
  • Putties, caulks, and cements
  • Artificial ashes and embers sold for use in gas-fired fireplaces
  • Siding and roofing shingles
  • Wall and ceiling texture
  • Brake linings and clutch pads in automobiles
What to do with Asbestos in the Home?
In most cases it is best to leave asbestos alone. Asbestos poses a health risk if the fibers are loosened and become airborne. Look for corrosion or damage of the materials containing asbestos such as abrasions or water damage. Be sure not to touch! Damaged material may release asbestos fibers, especially, if the material is disturbed on a regular basis by hitting, rubbing or exposure to extreme air flow. Sometimes it is best to seal off the area avoiding contact. Repair usually involves sealing or covering asbestos. Seek help from a professional asbestos inspector or contractor if you choose to repair or remove asbestos.
For more information on asbestos, visit the Consumer Product Safety Commission website at, and the Environmental Protection Agency website at
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