What is Asbestos: Types and Risks

what is asbestos

Asbestos is the common name for six naturally occurring minerals. Asbestos fibers are microscopic and are very durable and resistant to fire and many chemical reactions. It doesn’t break down as quickly as other materials, making it an ideal building material.

Asbestos can be found in roofing shingles, floor tiles, ceilings, cements compounds, as well as many textile products and car parts.

Types of Asbestos

Again, there are six minerals all referred to as asbestos.

  • Chrysotile is the most common form of asbestos and is mostly found floors, walls, ceilings, and roofs. It was also used in the brake lining, gaskets, and boilers seals of cars.
  • Amosite was mostly used in sheets of cements and to insulate pipes. It can also be found prevalently in insulating boards and some ceiling tiles.
  • Crocidolite, also known as blue asbestos, is the least resistant to heat and was used mostly to insulate steam engines.
  • Tremolite is not used commercially, but can occasionally found as a contaminant in other minerals. As well as being odorless and tasteless, this type of asbestos can also appear transparent.
  • Anthophyllite is another type of asbestos that was not used for commercial use. It, like tremolite, was found mostly as a contaminant in products such as composite flooring.
  • Actinolite is the least flexible type of asbestos and was also never used commercial but found as a contaminant in asbestos products.

The Risks of Exposure to Asbestos

Exposure to asbestos can cause numerous health risks including cancer. Asbestos fibers, if inhaled or swallowed, become stuck in the soft tissues of your lungs or abdomen. These fibers are extremely difficult for your body to expel and may eventually cause health problems. It can take 10 to 50 years for the symptoms to appear after exposure. Most exposure occurs on the job, especially manual labor jobs in construction, shipping, and utilities.

Those working with or close to asbestos can also bring fibers of asbestos into their home through their clothes. Homes built before the 1980’s, when asbestos was less understood and used in many building materials, can contain asbestos. If not disturbed, asbestos has not been found to be harmful. Asbestos is only harmful if sent into the air, which may happen during remodeling of these older homes.

How to Avoid Exposure

Although asbestos is still mined and used around the world, it’s use in common products has all but stopped in the United States.

Again, older homes may have building materials (flooring, roofing, insulation) containing asbestos. If you can identify these materials in your home, avoid disrupting them and be mindful of natural wear and water damage.

If you are remodeling your home, check for asbestos before you begin. Avoid disrupting areas and materials that could expose you and your family to asbestos.