Written by Michelle Y. Llamas Contributed by the Mesothelioma Center
Exposure on the job is the most common way to be exposed to asbestos. In fact, the World Health Organization estimates that about 125 million people in the world are exposed to asbestos while at work.
Disturbing or breaking asbestos-containing materials (ACM) releases tiny fibers into the air. Once airborne, the toxic fibers can be absorbed into the body by inhaling or swallowing them. These microscopic particles can remain in the lungs and abdomen for many years and cause a variety of serious health problems including asbestosis, lung cancer and mesothelioma.
Even if asbestos is heavily regulated and banned in many countries because it is a known carcinogen, buildings and homes built before the 1980s may still contain asbestos. Because asbestos is a health hazard, is it important to be mindful of ACMs where you work.
Common Products Containing Asbestos
In the United States, asbestos was used in more than 5,000 products throughout the 20th century, but it is most often found in building materials, products that are exposed to friction and heat-resistant fabrics.
When dry asbestos is easily crumbled, reduced to powder or pulverized by hand, it is called “friable” asbestos. This type of asbestos is the most dangerous because it can easily become airborne if disturbed.
Friable asbestos is most often found in:
· Steam or hot water pipe coverings
· Thermal block insulation on boilers and water tanks
· Fireproof insulation on structural beams and decking
· Acoustical insulation in the form of plaster in school and office buildings
Non-friable asbestos is used in concrete, roofing materials, pipes, gaskets, vinyl and floor tiles. If these materials are in good condition, they do not pose too much of a threat. However, if they are damaged or crumbling, these materials can be considered friable and should be repaired or removed immediately.
The United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has a list of asbestos-containing products on their website. Educating yourself on the most common ACMs will reduce asbestos exposure on the job, especially if you work in a job where asbestos is commonplace.
Occupations at High Risk for Asbestos Exposure
People who work or have worked in the following occupations have an increased risk of asbestos exposure:
· Brake repair mechanic
· Demolition worker
· Dry wall finisher
· Insulation installer
· Pipe or steam fitter
· Shipyard worker
If you work in any of the occupations listed above, you should become familiar with the most common products that contain asbestos and exercise caution when working with old or damaged materials.
Before starting work on a site that may contain asbestos-containing materials, make sure you or your employer speak with the building owner or manager and identify all locations of ACMs. ACMs are best handled by trained professionals with proper safety gear.
Bio: Michelle Y. Llamas is a writer for the Mesothelioma Center. She is committed to generating awareness about the dangers of asbestos exposure and providing information regarding breakthroughs in mesothelioma treatment.