Asbestos Explained

Most of us have heard of asbestos and are aware that its presence can negatively impact renovation timelines and budgets, but what is it and why is remediation necessary? This April, our blog posts will focus on asbestos remediation services and best practices.

What is Asbestos?

Asbestos is a set of six naturally occurring fibrous minerals, all of which are heat, fire, and electricity resistant. There are six different types: amosite, chrysotile, crocidolite, tremolite, actinolite, and anthophyllite. Each have slightly different chemical and physical properties, but its threads are stronger than steel. This resilience, however, is also what makes it a health hazard, as the body is unable to process and remove it.

Asbestos is most dangerous when friable, or easily crumbled, and this is usually due to decay or renovation and demolition activities. When renovation or demolition is handled correctly, the negative health impacts can be minimized.

The Brief History of Asbestos Use 

The history of asbestos stretches back to ancient Greek and Roman culture, where it was woven into cloth and used for everything from tablecloths to reusable handkerchiefs. Pliny the Elder first named this material asbestinon, meaning “unquenchable.” In Medieval times, alchemists believed it was hair from flame-resistant salamanders, but after visiting a Chinese mine in the 13th century, Marco Polo determined once again that it was a mineral.

The 17th and 18th centuries expanded its popularity and it was added to theater curtains, firefighter apparel, and fire-defying outfits for performers. The 1860s saw its first use in making fire-resistant rooftops. From there, it became a common additive to strengthen plastics, make ships fireproof, and even added to military parts such as flares, bazooka shells, and torpedoes.

World War II saw demand skyrocket, and suppliers struggled to keep up with demand as it was added to numerous military parts. With concerns about German stockpiling, the CIA even led an investigation into their South African source. The post-war construction boom created asbestos cement and spray-on asbestos coatings; the modern high-rise became possible due to the way it protected steel from buckling due to fire damage.

By the EPA’s founding in the 1970s, asbestos was ubiquitous: the US Postal Service made fireproof mailbags, food producers used it to filter their products, heart surgeons used it as thread, and it was developed into a toothpaste. However, concerns about its health effects had been rising. In 1931, the British government created regulations to address some of the worrisome links to lung disease and cancer, but it took decades more for the rest of the world to take note (Mossman, 2010).

Health Hazards of Asbestos 

Today, almost everyone knows the dangers of asbestos. When friable, asbestos releases fibers into the air which can be inhaled and settle into the body’s organs and tissues. Once asbestos fibers are ingested, the body cannot break them down, leading to conditions such as asbestosis, lung cancer, and mesothelioma. By the 1960s, it was apparent that even low levels of exposure could lead to significant health risks. As its use was so common, millions were at risk. Awareness of the dangers led to an almost 95% decrease in demand from its peak in 1973.

However, it is still used today. The less dangerous chrysotile type protects rocket components from heat, and assists in oxygen creation in submarines as well as the manufacture of chlorine. Given its pervasive use in construction over the last century, it is imperative that you understand your property’s history, as exposure-related health issues can be easily avoided.

What to Do If You Think There is Asbestos in Your Property 

If you suspect you have asbestos containing materials in your property, there are a number of steps you can take to minimize exposure. Hiring an asbestos remediation expert, such as EBI Consulting, can help you determine its presence. Our experts are highly qualified and trained to test various materials. We provide testing, design, and abatement services for asbestos-containing materials, as well as other potentially hazardous materials such as lead, mold, radon, and PCBs.

Our certified asbestos inspector team works diligently to inspect your property for potential hazards. If we have reason to believe your property contains any type of hazardous materials, we work with you to create a plan to mitigate them. Our asbestos abatement supervisors oversee and manage your chosen abatement team and ensure they stay in compliance with state and federal regulations.  

If you’re interested in learning more about how EBI Consulting can help you with your asbestos needs, please contact us at info@ebiconsulting.com, or visit our Asbestos Abatement page.

References 

Mossman, J. E. (2010, June 03). Asbestos Revisted . Retrieved from Wayback Machine: https://web.archive.org/web/20100603095555/http://www.virlab.virginia.edu/Nanoscience_class/lecture_notes/Lecture_14_Materials/Asbestos_CNT/Sci%20Am%20-%20Asbestos%20Revisited%20-%20July%201997.pdf

 

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