What is asbestos?

It’s hard to watch late night TV without seeing one of those asbestos commercials from a law firm wanting to know if you are sick.  This has raised some awareness and has prompted some questions from clients and friends.  Awareness is a good thing, at least people are asking questions (ignorance is not bliss).  Most people think that asbestos is only in old buildings and some think it has been removed.  Not the case, it is still around and in many buildings, some old and some new.  So, I will try to explain what asbestos is and why you may want to know about it.

Asbestos is a naturally occurring fibrous mineral that has great properties like heat, chemical, and weather resistance.  These properties make it a great additive to building materials like plaster, flooring, and thermal system insulation.  There are actually thousands of uses for this mineral.  It actually was a good thing when used properly.  However, those properties that make it great for building materials also make it hard for the human body to deal with.  When asbestos containing materials (ACM) are disturbed they can release asbestos fibers into the air and you could inhale or ingest them.  In your lungs you have tiny air sacs call alveoli (they help in the transfer of oxygen into the blood stream).  That air sac can be punctured and since the physical shape of the fiber has a barbed end like a fish hook they are not swept out of the lungs like other fibers you inhale.  That punctured air sac dies and the body forms scar tissue around it and you have one less alveoli.  Enough exposure over a period time can lead to reduced lung function called asbestosis.  These abnormalities can later develop into lung cancer.  Mesothelioma is when that fiber works its way through the lung tissue and settles in the pleural lining of the chest cavity and cancer forms.   I am not a doctor, so that is my basic knowledge on asbestos health effects and I always tell people if you have specific questions about your health or asbestos health risks ask your doctor.

How do you protect yourself from this hazard?  There are many ways to prevent or limit exposure.  The big thing is: knowing where it is and where it isn’t.  If you are doing a renovation on your home or business; ask the question “did you test for asbestos?”  Not everyone will be happy about you asking questions, but if you want to be safe then ask.  Once you know where it is you can hire a licensed contractor to abate the hazard.  We have cleaned up some pretty big messes from other contractors who should have tested materials before disturbing them.  How many times have you thought “hindsight is 20/20”, probably thousands for me.  Do yourself a favor and test the materials, put a plan together to prevent problems, so you don’t make new ones. 

Don’t wait until you need a lawyer.  Do it now.