What Is Asbestos?

What is Asbestos?

Asbestos is a naturally occurring silicate (a chemical that contains silicon) mineral. The word ‘asbestos’ comes from ancient Greece, and it literally means ‘inextinguishable.’ It is this inextinguishable quality of asbestos that led to its pervasive use in such things as fireproofing materials, brake linings, roofing and other construction materials, chemical filters, and electrical insulation. However, asbestos has actually been banned in at least 50 countries worldwide due to its carcinogenic effects, especially when inhaled. Though asbestos is an effective fire retardant, its use in these and other materials has been linked to serious illnesses that can be fatal, such as lung cancer, asbestosis (an often fatal non-cancer disease), and mesothelioma, a rare but aggressive form of cancer. Not everyone whose home or building contains asbestos necessarily knows about its presence. In fact, they often do not discover it’s there until after a remodeling or demolition project has begun. Following is more detailed information about asbestos, its uses, health effects, and asbestos inspection in New Jersey and throughout the country.

Uses for asbestos

In North America, asbestos has been mined since the latter part of the 1800s. It has been used commercially in many countries and in a number of industries, with a major part of its use occurring in building/construction. Asbestos use increased markedly during World War II. Some of the most prevalent uses for asbestos have occurred in the automotive industry due to its fire retardant capabilities for such items as clutch pads and vehicle brake shoes. It also has been used widely in the shipbuilding industry in boiler insulation and in the construction of steam pipes. Additionally, asbestos was widely used in home construction, especially from the 1940s to the 1970s, in such materials as floor tiles, adhesives, coatings, paints, insulation, and ceiling products.

Health dangers of asbestos

Asbestos is particularly dangerous to the respiratory system. The reason for this is that inhaling asbestos can lead to lung diseases such as mesothelioma and lung cancer. Mesothelioma used to be a very rare type of cancer; unfortunately, it has been on the rise in recent years due in major part to increased use of asbestos. Mesothelioma is an aggressive type of cancer that develops primarily in the lining of the lungs. The effects of asbestos typically are not discovered for many years following exposure to it.

Who is at risk

Anyone who is or has been exposed to asbestos for any time during their life is at risk for developing an asbestos-related disease, particularly those who have prolonged exposure to it. Though low levels of asbestos can always be present in soil, air, and water, individuals who develop asbestos-related diseases typically have been greatly exposed to it, either in their occupations or from its use in their homes. For instance, individuals who were involved in cleanup, rescue, and recovery efforts at the site of the September 11, 2001 World Trade Center attacks in Manhattan became at risk for breathing in deadly substances from asbestos. Additionally, construction workers, insulation installers or removers, and especially demolition workers are at particular risk of developing asbestos-related diseases because of the marked use of asbestos in these industries.

Decreased use of asbestos

Because asbestos fibers could be released into the environment during use, the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) banned the use of asbestos back in the 1970s in such items as gas fireplaces and wallboard patching compounds. Some other industries, including manufacturers of hair dryers, voluntarily ceased their use of asbestos during the 1970s and 1980s. In 1989, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) placed a ban on all new uses of asbestos. It is important to note, however, that uses developed before 1989 are still permitted.

If you are considering embarking on a demolition or any other construction project of any building you own, you should have an asbestos inspection done before construction begins, particularly if the structure was built between the 1940s and the 1970s. However, this period is not the only time when asbestos was used, so it is best to either have an asbestos inspection in New Jersey done before the project begins. Once you have determined the building contains asbestos, it is vital that it is removed properly. For asbestos removal in Essex County, contact an asbestos removal or inspection company near you.