Testing Services – Asbestos
The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services has determined that asbestos is a known carcinogen, that is, causes cancer in humans. Asbestos fibers can have serious effects on your health if inhaled. The greater the exposure, the greater the risk of developing an asbestos-related disease. People who are exposed to Asbestos over a period of time have an increased chance of getting one or both of these types of cancer: cancer of the lung tissue itself, and mesothelioma, a cancer of the thin membrane that surrounds the lung and other internal organs. Both lung cancer and mesothelioma are usually fatal. The amount of time between exposure to asbestos and the first signs of disease can be as much as 30 years. It is known that smokers exposed to asbestos have a much greater chance of developing lung cancer than just from smoking alone.
These diseases do not appear immediately, but develop only after around 20 years. There is also some evidence from studies of workers that breathing asbestos can increase the chances of getting cancer in other locations (e.g. Stomach, intestines, esophagus, pancreas, kidneys), but this is less certain.
Besides causing cancer, breathing asbestos can also cause a slow accumulation of scar-like tissue in the lungs and in the membrane which surrounds the lungs. This scar-like tissue does not expand and contract like normal lung tissue, and so breathing becomes difficult. Blood flow to the lung may also decrease, and will cause the heart to enlarge. When the injury is mostly in the lung itself, the disease is called asbestosis. This is a serious disease, which can eventually lead to disability or death in people exposed to high levels of asbestos.
Asbestos fibers can lead to an increased risks for lung cancer, mesothelioma, and asbestosis.
Those few products made which still contain asbestos that could be inhaled are required to be labeled as such. However, until the 1970s, many types of building products and insulation materials used in homes contained asbestos. Common products that might have contained asbestos in the past, and conditions which may release fibers, include insulation and floor tile and many other products.
You are most likely to be exposed to asbestos by breathing in tiny asbestos fibers suspended in the air. These fibers can come from natural outcroppings of asbestos, but many come from the degradation or breakdown of man-made products such as insulation, ceiling and floor tiles, roof shingles, cement, automotive brakes and clutches, and many other products.
In indoor air, the concentration of asbestos depends on whether asbestos was used for insulation, ceiling or floor tiles, or other purposes, and whether these asbestos-containing materials are in good condition or are deteriorated and easily crumbled. People who work with asbestos (e.g., miners, insulation workers, and automobile brake mechanics) are likely to be exposed too much higher levels of asbestos particles in air than people who work, live, or attend school in buildings containing asbestos products. You can also be exposed to asbestos by drinking fibers present in water. Even though asbestos does not dissolve in water, fibers can enter water by being eroded from natural deposits or piles of waste asbestos, or from cement pipes used to carry drinking water.
There are three main types of asbestos still found in premises. These are commonly called “blue asbestos” (crocidolite), “brown asbestos” (amosite) and “white asbestos” (chrysotile). All of them are dangerous carcinogens, but blue and brown asbestos are more hazardous than white. You cannot identify them just by their color.
Because asbestos is often mixed with another material, it’s hard to know if you’re working with it or not. But, if you work in a building built before the year 2000, it’s likely that some parts of the building will contain asbestos.
One cannot determine if material contains asbestos simply by visual examination. A professional should take samples for analysis, since a professional knows what to look for, and because there may be an increased health risk if fibers are released into the air. Taking samples yourself is not recommended.