Asbestos is a serious health hazard commonly found in our environment today. This training module is designed to provide an overview of asbestos and its associated hazards. It is important for employees who may work in buildings that contain asbestos to know where it is likely to be found and how to avoid exposure.
Asbestos Training Modules
Asbestos is the name applied to six naturally occurring minerals that are mined from the earth. The different types of asbestos are:
Of these six, three are used more commonly. Chrysotile (white) is the most common, but it is not unusual to encounter Amosite (brown / off-white), or Crocidolite (blue) as well.
All types of asbestos tend to break into very tiny fibers. These individual fibers are so small that many must be identified using a microscope. In fact, some individual fibers may be up to 700 times smaller than a human hair. Because asbestos fibers are so small, once released into the air, they may stay suspended there for hours or even days.
Asbestos fibers are also virtually indestructible. They are resistant to chemicals and heat, and they are very stable in the environment. They do not evaporate into air or dissolve in water, and they are not broken down over time. Asbestos is probably the best insulator known to man. Because asbestos has so many useful properties, it has been used in over 3,000 different products.
Usually asbestos is mixed with other materials to actually form the products. Floor tiles, for example, may contain only a small percentage of asbestos. Depending on what the product is, the amount of asbestos in asbestos containing materials (ACM) may vary from 1%-100%.
Asbestos may be found in many different products and many different places. Examples of products that might contain asbestos are:
At OSU, asbestos is most likely to be found in:
|Pipe and boiler insulation that contains asbestos will be labeled with identifying stickers and placards.|
Asbestos-containing floor and ceiling tiles will not be labeled or marked. These tiles cannot be differentiated from other tile by visual means - they must be analyzed by a laboratory test.
The most common way for asbestos fibers to enter the body is through breathing. In fact, asbestos containing material is not generally considered to be harmful unless it is releasing dust or fibers into the air where they can be inhaled or ingested. Many of the fibers will become trapped in the mucous membranes of the nose and throat where they can then be removed, but some may pass deep into the lungs, or, if swallowed, into the digestive tract. Once they are trapped in the body, the fibers can cause health problems.
Asbestos is most hazardous when it is friable. The term "friable" means that the asbestos is easily crumbled by hand, releasing fibers into the air. Sprayed on asbestos insulation is highly friable. Asbestos floor tile is not.
Asbestos-containing ceiling tiles, floor tiles, undamaged laboratory cabinet tops, shingles, fire doors, siding shingles, etc. will not release asbestos fibers unless they are disturbed or damaged in some way. If an asbestos ceiling tile is drilled or broken, for example, it may release fibers into the air. If it is left alone and not disturbed, it will not.
Damage and deterioration will increase the friability of asbestos-containing materials. Water damage, continual vibration, aging, and physical impact such as drilling, grinding, buffing, cutting, sawing, or striking can break the materials down making fiber release more likely.
Because it is so hard to destroy asbestos fibers, the body cannot break them down or remove them once they are lodged in lung or body tissues. They remain in place where they can cause disease.
There are three primary diseases associated with asbestos exposure:
Asbestosis is a serious, chronic, non-cancerous respiratory disease. Inhaled asbestos fibers aggravate lung tissues, which cause them to scar. Symptoms of asbestosis include shortness of breath and a dry crackling sound in the lungs while inhaling. In its advanced stages, the disease may cause cardiac failure.
There is no effective treatment for asbestosis; the disease is usually disabling or fatal. The risk of asbestosis is minimal for those who do not work with asbestos; the disease is rarely caused by neighborhood or family exposure. Those who renovate or demolish buildings that contain asbestos may be at significant risk, depending on the nature of the exposure and precautions taken.
Lung cancer causes the largest number of deaths related to asbestos exposure. The incidence of lung cancer in people who are directly involved in the mining, milling, manufacturing and use of asbestos and its products is much higher than in the general population. The most common symptoms of lung cancer are coughing and a change in breathing. Other symptoms include shortness of breath, persistent chest pains, hoarseness, and anemia.
People who have been exposed to asbestos and are also exposed to some other carcinogen -- such as cigarette smoke -- have a significantly greater risk of developing lung cancer than people who have only been exposed to asbestos. One study found that asbestos workers who smoke are about 90 times more likely to develop lung cancer than people who neither smoke nor have been exposed to asbestos.
Mesothelioma is a rare form of cancer that most often occurs in the thin membrane lining of the lungs, chest, abdomen, and (rarely) heart. About 200 cases are diagnosed each year in the United States. Virtually all cases of mesothelioma are linked with asbestos exposure. Approximately 2 percent of all miners and textile workers who work with asbestos, and 10 percent of all workers who were involved in the manufacture of asbestos-containing gas masks, contract mesothelioma.
People who work in asbestos mines, asbestos mills and factories, and shipyards that use asbestos, as well as people who manufacture and install asbestos insulation, have an increased risk of mesothelioma. So do people who live with asbestos workers, near asbestos mining areas, near asbestos product factories or near shipyards where use of asbestos has produced large quantities of airborne asbestos fibers.
Evidence suggests that cancers in the esophagus, larynx, oral cavity, stomach, colon and kidney may be caused by ingesting asbestos. For more information on asbestos-related cancers, contact your local chapter of the American Cancer Society.
Three things seem to determine your likelihood of developing one of these asbestos related diseases:
Because each exposure to asbestos increases the body burden of asbestos fibers, it is very important to reduce and minimize your exposure.
In order to avoid being exposed to asbestos, you must be aware of the locations it is likely to be found. If you do not know whether something is asbestos or not, assume that it is until it is verified otherwise. Remember that you cannot tell if floor or ceiling tiles contain asbestos just by looking at them.
OSU Environmental Health and Safety has licensed asbestos abatement staff who can take samples from materials in order to determine whether or not they contain asbestos. If you need to have materials analyzed or tested for asbestos, please contact EHS. Never try to take a sample yourself unless you are licensed to do so.
If you have reason to suspect that something is asbestos, either because it is labeled as such, or because it something that is likely to contain asbestos (9" floor tile, for example) ------ DO NOT DISTURB IT.
...any asbestos-containing materials or suspected materials.
EHS has surveyed most locations in OSU buildings for the presence of asbestos. If you need to do work that might involve asbestos (lifting ceiling tiles, repairing insulated pipelines, etc.), check with EHS to find out what can be done safely.
For example, before moving any ceiling tiles to perform maintenance work, it will be necessary to ensure they do not contain asbestos. If they do contain asbestos, they will need to be removed by licensed asbestos abatement workers before the work may be performed.
Housekeepers and custodians should never sand or dry buff asbestos containing floor tiles, and only wet stripping methods may be used during stripping operations. Low abrasion pads should be used at speeds below 300 rpm.
Broken and fallen ceiling tiles should be left in place until identified. Only after they have been identified as safe may they be removed. Asbestos tiles will be removed by asbestos abatement workers.
Broken and damaged asbestos floor tiles must also be removed by asbestos abatement workers. Report any suspect broken tiles to EHS.
It is important to report any damaged asbestos-containing materials to EHS immediately. If, for example, you discover some sprayed-on asbestos insulation has been knocked off of a ceiling or wall, this would need to be cleaned up immediately by asbestos abatement workers.
Do not attempt to clean up potential asbestos material yourself! Disturb the material as little as possible. Also report damaged pipe insulation, ceiling tile, 9" floor tile, fallen clumps of sprayed-on insulation, etc. Take measures to prevent others from disturbing the spill until EH&S arrives.
By knowing where asbestos is likely to be located and then taking measures not to disturb it, you will protect yourself and others from exposure to this hazardous substance.