- Asbestos is a general term for six types of fibrous mineral materials that are mostly composed of silicon and oxygen and can be found in nature. These minerals have desirable qualities such as resistance to heat or chemical decomposition and were incorporated into many commercial and industrial applications.
- Asbestos materials have been mined for thousands of years but production of asbestos containing materials escalated in the early 1900’s. For most of the twentieth century, asbestos was used in the manufacturing of household goods and construction materials. A majority of structures built prior to the 1990’s still contain asbestos in some form.
- Certain asbestos fibers can be woven into yarns and fabrics. The high heat tolerance and resistance to corrosion of these fabrics made them useful for producing protective garments and the vibration dampening ability meant that they were used to reduce noise around ducts and walls.
- Exposure to asbestos materials can cause several diseases. Mesothelioma, Asbestosis, and several forms of lung cancer can develop in individuals who are exposed. While chronic exposure in the workplace is a common trait among patients suffering from asbestos related diseases, OSHA states that there is no safe level of asbestos exposure. Symptoms of an asbestos related disease can develop several years after even a brief exposure.
- Since asbestos minerals are a natural phenomenon, large deposits that lie near the surface can release fibers into the air through mechanical weathering. While every person breathes in small amounts of naturally occurring asbestos in the air, people that live near surface deposits have a higher chance of suffering from an asbestos related disease without occupational exposure.
- Due to the serious health risks that come from occupational exposure to asbestos, the removal and disposal of asbestos materials is highly regulated by the EPA and OSHA. Old buildings containing asbestos are tested, and asbestos is carefully removed and transported so that workers and the public aren’t put at risk.
- Asbestos wastes are generally divided into two categories; friable and non-friable. Friable asbestos is fragile enough to be broken apart by hand and has a high danger of releasing fibers into the air. Non-friable asbestos cannot be broken apart by hand but can still release fibers during cutting and grinding actions used in the process of removal.
- Landfill disposal is the most common method for disposal of asbestos but limited landfill space and the development of new techniques are making the recycling of asbestos materials a more viable option. Asbestos fibrils can be treated to form non-threatening materials such as silicate glass and ceramics.
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