What Is Asbestos, Why Is It Dangerous And Where Does It Lurk?

Asbestos is a naturally occurring fibrous material, primarily composed of silicates. Asbestos comes in four different forms, each of which bears slightly different chemical compositions. Each of the different forms is referred to by the color it naturally takes – blue, brown, white and green. Asbestos is a naturally durable material that is able to resist heat, fire and several different types of corrosion. Because the individual fibers trap air between them, asbestos also works well as an insulator. 

Historically, asbestos was an important material used in the construction of a variety of different items -- even the ancient Romans used asbestos in various manufacturing processes.  Early cultures used the material primarily for making pots, pans and building materials, but by the mid-20th century, the fibrous material was used in everything from flame resistant fabrics to sound dampening panels. The material was also commonly used in the construction of furnaces and chimneys, thanks to its heat-resistant properties. Asbestos is a plentiful and easily accessed resource, which helped keep the asbestos' price low, which made it even more attractive commercially.   

However, scientists now know that asbestos causes serious health problems; long-term exposure to it can lead to cancer, mesothelioma, asbestosis and other dangerous diseases. Asbestos can also cause patients to experience collapsed lungs, pleural plaques or asbestos warts. Most health problems occur when asbestos fibers are inhaled, particularly when this occurs over a prolonged period of time. Most asbestos-related health problems follow chronic exposure, and they only manifest after a long period of time. Mesothelioma, for example, often exhibits a prolonged latency stage, during which no health problems occur.

Given the serious health concerns associated with asbestos, modern manufacturers avoid using the material whenever possible – often because they are compelled by law to do so. While asbestos is now eschewed in favor of safer materials, many older products – particularly those that were manufactured before 1980 – still contain the dangerous fibers.

Any of the following materials may include asbestos, and should be analyzed promptly to determine whether or not the dangerous material is present:

  • Roof tiles
  • Floor tiles
  • Caulk
  • Brake pads
  • Fire doors
  • Fire blankets
  • Fire-resistant fabrics, including clothes, linens and upholstered items
  • Pipe insulation
  • HVAC duct connectors
  • Low-density insulating boards
  • Talcum powder
  • Vermiculite
  • Joint filler compound
  • Window putty
  • Furnace tape

Because of the serious health risks caused by exposure to the fibrous material, any goods found to contain asbestos should be disposed of properly. Contact a business, such as Mac-Bestos Inc, for more information.