What is Asbestos?
Asbestos is a term used to describe six naturally occurring incombustible minerals. Three of the most common types are chrysotile, amosite, and crocidolite. Asbestos is a mineral compound of silicon, oxygen, hydrogen, and various metals. Asbestos minerals formed millions of years ago when heat, pressure, or chemical activity changed the physical and chemical characteristics of pre-existing rock. Unlike other minerals, which consist of tightly bound crystals, asbestos minerals are characterized by the presence of densely packed bundles of fibers.
Asbestos was a popular component in commercial products from the early 1900s to the 1970s. Asbestos is durable, fire retardant, resists corrosion, and insulates very well. Asbestos products use in America was greatest from the 1940s until the late 1970s when the health hazards associated with asbestos exposure became widely recognized. By this time asbestos had become an integral component of approximately 3,600 commercial products. During World War II, enormous quantities of asbestos were used in shipbuilding and other industries. Following the war and until the late 1970s, asbestos was widely used in buildings for fireproofing, thermal and acoustical insulation, condensation control, and decoration. It has been estimated that approximately 30 million tons of asbestos have been used in the construction and manufacturing industries since the early 1900s.
What are the Health Effects of Asbestos Exposure?
Asbestos fibers can cause serious health problems. If asbestos fibers are inhaled, these tiny microscopic fibers can cause normal functions of the lungs to be disturbed. Exposure increases the risk of developing lung cancer, mesothelioma, or asbestosis, which is a scaring of the lungs that leads to breathing problems. It could take anywhere from 15 to 30 years after the first exposure for symptoms to occur. Medical investigations have shown that inhalation is the principal route of entry that leads to asbestos-related diseases. There is no known safe exposure level to asbestos. The greater the exposure, the greater the risk of developing an asbestos-related disease.
Regulations Governing Asbestos
Pursuant to the Clean Air Act of 1970, the U.S. EPA established the Asbestos National Emission Standard for Hazardous Air Pollutants (NESHAP). It is intended to minimize the release of asbestos fibers during activities involving the handling of asbestos. It specifies work practices to be followed during renovation, demolition, and other abatement activities when friable asbestos is involved. On March 31, 1971, the U.S. EPA identified asbestos as a hazardous pollutant. On April 06, 1973, the U.S. EPA first enforced the asbestos NESHAP Regulation in Title 40, Code of Federal Regulations, Part 61. On November 20, 1990, the U.S. EPA re-promulgated the entire Asbestos NESHAP regulation to enhance enforcement and compliance, Title 40, Code of Federal Regulations, Part 61, Subpart M, Asbestos. This is the current edition. On June 17, 1994, the U.S. EPA added Appendix A to clarify the Asbestos NESHAP as it affects roof removal operations involving asbestos.