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Asbestos pitfalls, precautions and best practices

Author : Alison Grimes, MAA Center health advocate

31 January 2017

Fireproof, soundproof, strong, flexible, inexpensive and of great insulating quality -- asbestos was every builder's and supplier's “go-to” material between the 1940s up until about the 1980s when it was discovered that exposure to asbestos can be deadly and the US Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) banned asbestos use in certain building materials.

There was an influx of school and home construction prior to 1980 which are very likely to house materials containing asbestos.

Although a known carcinogen, asbestos has yet to be banned in the United States or Canada, although it has been banned in 58 countries worldwide.

Asbestos is a naturally occurring fibrous, silicate mineral categorized in six sets of either chrysotile, crocidolite, amosite, anthophyllite, tremolite, and actinolite of which chrysotile and amosite are most common.

Due to its fibrous, mineral composition and resistance to heat, it became the material of choice in a variety of products and construction projects until it became evident that asbestos was hazardous.

Veterans and construction workers especially were at risk of the pitfalls of asbestos.


Asbestos exposure has been linked to causing life-threatening diagnosis such as lung cancer, ovarian cancer, laryngeal cancer, mesothelioma, asbestosis and other respiratory and abdomen-related disease.

Asbestos is the only scientifically proven cause of mesothelioma cancer which although rare, is the most common form of cancer associated with asbestos exposure of which there are nearly 3,000 new diagnoses each year after being exposed to asbestos nearly 10-50 years prior.

Average life expectancy ranges between 6-12 months once diagnosed, although 33% of patients diagnosed have lived longer than year.


Given the nature of asbestos use in construction prior to the 1980s, it is important to watch for exposed materials such as crumbling or breaks in building materials or insulation that might contain asbestos, to avoid the inhaling of debris.

Common places to find asbestos include insulation materials for pipes, boilers and attic insulation, asbestos and cement shingles, siding and roofing tiles, soundproofing applications, plaster and joint compounds, some plastics, paints and adhesives, casings for electrical wires, some floor tiles and flooring adhesives.

Because asbestos is a natural mineral fiber, it is found naturally in specific soils and rock formations which were once open asbestos mines before its dangers became known.

The United States Environmental Protection Agency releases updated maps detailing areas that have been found to contain asbestos.

Best Practices

Any known materials containing asbestos should be avoided, however asbestos-containing materials that are not damaged or disturbed are unlikely to pose a health risk.

Usually the best thing is to leave asbestos-containing material alone if in good condition while checking over time for signs of wear or damage.

If asbestos-containing material is more than slightly damaged or disturbed two actions can be taken by trained and accredited asbestos professionals, either repair and or removal.

Repair involves sealing, covering or encapsulating the material with a sealant to either blind the asbestos fibres together or coat the material so fibres are not released.

Pipe, furnace and boiler insulation is generally repaired this way, but should be handled by a professional.

Covering or enclosing asbestos involves placing something over or around the material to prevent the release of fibres, such as tiles, exposed insulated piping, etc.

For more information and resources on asbestos removal and best practices, visit the Health and Safety Executive website and consult an asbestos abatement professional near you.



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