Wednesday, February 06, 2008

Do You Have an Asbestos Problem?

Asbestos is a mineral composed of long, thin fibrous crystals, and the name is derived from a Greek adjective meaning inextinguishable. The Greeks named asbestos the “mineral miracle” because of its soft texture and pliant properties, as well as its ability to withstand heat.

Asbestos became very popular among builders and manufacturers during the late 19th century because of its resistance to heat, electricity, chemical damage, sound absorption, and strength. In fact, many building materials manufactured before 1975, including insulation, floor tiles, cement shingles, roofing, and ceiling tiles, contained large amounts of this mineral. However, due to the health effects associated with asbestos, the EPA and Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) have banned it from use, and most products made today do not contain the mineral.

Nonetheless, as mentioned above, long-term exposure to asbestos fibers have been associated with a range of health problems. Asbestos fibers are too small to be visible and they can become airborne when materials containing asbestos are disturbed or improperly removed. Once inhaled, asbestos can lead to increased incidence of lung cancer, mesothelioma (cancer of the abdominal lining and chest), and even irreversible lung scarring that can be fatal (also known as asbestosis). Unfortunately, symptoms of these diseases often do not show up until many years after exposure begins, and most people suffering from asbestos-related diseases were exposed to high concentrations while on the job.

To address asbestos problems, it is sometimes best to leave asbestos material alone, assuming it is in good condition, because material in good condition will not release asbestos fibers. However, these materials should also be periodically inspected for damage and properly handled and disposed according to appropriate officials. Also, if the asbestos material is even slightly damaged, the EPA recommends removal by a professional.

If you have had asbestos removed or sealed from your home or workplace, your second level of clean up can involve using an air purifier with a high-quality, warm-rolled, True HEPA filter, or even vacuuming floors with a HEPA vacuum. Asbestos fibers range anywhere from 0.1 to 50 microns and length, and HEPA filters must be capable of removing at least 99.97% of airborne particles as small as 0.3 microns in diameter. Therefore, while a HEPA air purifier or vacuum should not be your only line of defense against asbestos, it can certainly help filter out large fibers and keep you breathing cleaner air.

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