It’s Asbestos Awareness Week, and the ultimate goal of raising awareness is to prevent dangerous exposure. Here we’ve gathered the most important tips to help you avoid the most hazardous kinds of exposure.
First, a caveat: Only significant, repeated exposure is a risk factor for developing an asbestos-related disease. This means that unless you work with asbestos or live near naturally occurring asbestos, you likely won’t be at risk of getting sick from random, low-level exposure.
We’ve all been exposed to the fibrous mineral known as asbestos. It occurs naturally in ambient air and drinking water in microscopic levels that don’t harm us. But certain types of man-made asbestos products have the potential to release dangerous levels of asbestos fibers.
Friable asbestos products are the most hazardous. The term friable means easily crumbled. When an asbestos material becomes friable, the fibers within are more easily released. Asbestos products can become friable with age, wear and tear, but some are inherently friable such as loose-fill insulation. Most of the tips presented here focus on awareness of highly friable asbestos materials.
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) tried to ban asbestos in the late 80s, but the ban was overturned in 1991. All efforts to ban asbestos since then have failed. Until a ban is enacted, you can do your best to avoid asbestos by following these tips and learning more about how exposure happens.
Don’t Mess with Loose Insulation
Insulation of any kind should be approached and handled with care. Some forms of insulation contain harmful substances, making it wise to assume any insulation you encounter could prove problematic.
Loose asbestos insulation is the most dangerous type of insulation and is among the most hazardous types of asbestos products. This highly friable product deteriorates with age, increasing the risk of exposure to asbestos fibers if disturbed. Structures built before 1980 are more likely to contain loose asbestos insulation.
If you encounter a material that resembles these images of loose asbestos insulation, don’t disturb it and call a professional asbestos abatement company. This is an asbestos product you do not want to abate yourself.
Hire a Brake Mechanic
Asbestos is added to brake pads to reduce heat. Not all brake pads used on new and recent car models contain asbestos, but some do. Replacement brake pads made today can contain asbestos, and it isn’t easy to tell which brakes are completely free of asbestos. Brake pads containing 1 percent or less asbestos can legally be labeled as asbestos-free.
Changing automobile brakes at home is one DIY job you should leave to the professionals. The EPA requires auto mechanics to use special equipment during brake repair that reduces release of asbestos fibers. Without this special equipment the risk of exposure is significant. Save yourself and your family the risk by hiring a licensed auto mechanic.
Be Wary of Pipe Wrapping
Asbestos was added to pipe wrapping prior to the 1980s to contain heat and protect against fire damage. The flexible design of pipe wrapping makes it likely to become friable with age. Damage to this material is likely to occur near bends in piping where the wrapping must flex to form around the pipe.
Older commercial and public buildings may have asbestos pipe wrapping. Thankfully, few people work around the areas where such piping is contained. Asbestos pipe wrapping can be found in basements of older homes or around plumbing. It’s important to teach children to not touch pipes at school or elsewhere, despite how temping it seems to mess with frayed material.
Know About Asbestos Deposits
Asbestos occurs naturally throughout the U.S., but thankfully not everywhere. The mineral forms in certain types of rock found along mountain ranges and in rocky soils, so you’ll rarely see it in the Great Plains or low-elevation states like Florida and Louisiana.
Natural asbestos deposits are located in the Northeast, the Appalachian Mountain range, the Rocky Mountain range and the Northwest. The following states are home to hotspots of naturally occurring asbestos: California, Georgia, Montana, Vermont, Virginia and Washington.
There are many steps you can take to reduce exposure to naturally occurring asbestos:
- Drive slowly on dirt roads. Keep windows rolled up and vents closed.
- Use paved trails outdoors.
- Keep doors and windows closed on windy days.
- Use a wet cloth to dust and a wet mop to clean non-carpeted floors.
- Use a HEPA-filtered vacuum on carpets.
- The ASTDR provides a fact for more tips on limiting environmental asbestos exposure.
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