What is Asbestos?

Asbestos is a group of minerals found in certain types of rock formations. They are made of mineral fibrils that can be so small that is would take several million of them grouped together to make a fiber as big as a strand of hair.

Fibrils are so small they can only be seen with an electron microscope. If fibrils bunch together, they are called fibers. Small fibers can only be seen by using a specialized optical microscope. When fibers bunch together, they are called bundles. Bundles and large fibers can be seen without a microscope.

Because the fibrils and fibers are so small and light, they can float in the air for many hours and cannot be seen. It is possible for people to breathe these fibers and not realize they are breathing asbestos.

These asbestos fibers are long and thin. If they are asbestiform, three or more times as long as they are wide, they are considered to be asbestos fibers by government agencies.

There are six regulated asbestos minerals:

  • Chrysotile (the most common)
  • Amosite
  • Crocidolite
  • Anthophyllite
  • Tremolite
  • Actinolite

What are the Dangers of Asbestos?

Asbestos fibers enter the body by breathing air contaminated with asbestos. These fibers are damaging to the lungs and may cause damage in other parts of the body. Some of the health problems caused by breathing asbestos fibers are:

  • Lung Cancer: More deaths come from lung cancer than from other asbestos-related diseases, although it may take up to 20 years to develop. Asbestos exposure and cigarette smoking together have been shown to cause a greater risk of lung cancer than either one separately.
  • Asbestosis: This is difficulty in breathing due to scarring of the lung tissue by asbestos fibers There is no known cure.
  • Mesothelioma: This is a cancer of the linings of the lungs, chest cavity, intestines or the abdominal cavity. It is usually fatal within two years of diagnosis.

When should you worry about asbestos?

You should be aware of the asbestos areas in your home. Testing the areas where asbestos is suspected is the first step. Asbestos does not have to be removed except under the following circumstances:

  • If the asbestos is in disrepair. This can be caused by water damage, fire, earthquake damage, improper repairs, vandalism, cracking or deterioration with age. If the asbestos in any area is soft to the touch, looks like it is loose or cracked, debris is noted on surfaces, or especially if dust is produced easily upon contact, it should be removed by an abatement company specifically licensed, and state certified for asbestos removal.
  • If the asbestos is going to be disturbed by remodeling. This may include electrical repair, light fixture replacement, redecorating, painting, plumbing repair, or furnace repair or removal.
  • If the ceilings become unsightly. They may look dirty or out of date. These ceilings must not be dry-scraped under any circumstance.
  • If activities in the house are causing the ceilings to vibrate. In a multi-level home, jumping or heavy activity in an upper room may cause asbestos fibers to be released. Other activities that can release asbestos fibers into the air include balls or objects bounced against the ceiling.
  • If the building is going to be demolished. Buildings that are going to be torn down must be inspected by a licensed inspector and have the asbestos removed first by an abatement firm specifically licensed for asbestos removal.
  • If you are going to buy or sell a home. For legal, economic, and liability reasons you should know where the asbestos is in the building and the condition of the asbestos before buying or selling. If you know where the asbestos is, you will be better prepared to avoid causing an exposure.

Why was Asbestos Used?

Asbestos was used extensively in the construction industry from the early 1940s through the late 1970s. It was commonly used as insulation on boilers and pipes. However, it was also used in formulating many other types of building materials such as  acoustic insulation, siding, HVAC ducting, plaster, caulking, roofing, siding and flooring. Asbestos was inexpensive, and it was considered to be highly-effective due to the following physical characteristics:

  • Strong and flexible (make buildings stronger)
  • Resistant to heat (used in fireproofing)
  • Low heat transfer (used in insulation)
  • Acid resistant (good in batteries)
  • Sound absorption (reduces noise)

How do I test for asbestos?

Please see our sampling guidelines or call our office at (801) 486-0800 for more information.

Where can I get more information about asbestos?

Additional information can be found at: