There are currently thousands of products and construction materials in existence today that may contain asbestos. Tens of millions of people have been exposed to asbestos through construction, industrial, automotive and consumer products. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and Consumer Products Safety Commission (CPSC) has banned most asbestos containing materials (ACMs), but many still pose a threat of harmful exposure due to already in-place asbestos in older buildings and products.
Asbestos, known for being very strong, chemically stable and thermally insulating, was added to thousands of industrial and construction materials and commonly used in products for fire, heat and sound-proofing. When intact and in good condition, these materials do not pose a threat. But when disturbed or damaged - as in the case of renovation, demolition, or repair - microscopic fibers can become airborne and easily inhaled or ingested, later leading to terminal illnesses such as mesothelioma, asbestosis or cancer.
Safe asbestos exposure standards have been created by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) for the construction, shipyard and general industries. These standards reduce, but do not eliminate, the risk of asbestos exposure.
According to OSHA regulations: “Airborne levels of asbestos are never to exceed legal worker exposure limits. Where the exposure does, employers are required to further protect workers by establishing regulated areas, controlling certain work practices and instituting engineering controls to reduce the airborne levels. The employer is required to ensure exposure is reduced by using administrative controls and providing personal protective clothing and equipment. Medical monitoring of workers is also required when legal limits and exposure times are exceeded.”
Many older buildings, structures, cars and ships still contain asbestos even though federal regulations banned all new uses of asbestos after 1979. Of major concern is the number of schools that were constructed decades ago with asbestos materials which could now potentially put thousands of students and school personnel at risk of unwanted exposure.
Learn more about asbestos is schools.
To learn more about asbestos in construction and industrial products, please see our Industrial and Construction Asbestos Containing Materials page.
Because automobiles create a great deal of operational heat, asbestos was routinely used in brake linings and clutches before it was regulated. Professional as well as home mechanics that install and maintain automobile components run a high risk of exposure to dangerous levels of asbestos. Although regulations have been put into place so that asbestos is no longer used in brake linings and clutches, millions of vehicles containing asbestos products are still in use today.
To learn more about asbestos in automotive products, please see our Automotive Products Containing Asbestos page.
Asbestos poses a threat in two different ways in the home: one, through existing in-place construction products that contain asbestos; and two, through common household and thermal insulating products, such as hair dryers and ironing board covers. Due to the extensive use of asbestos in the construction, it is likely that any home built before 1984 contains asbestos products and materials. These older homes can harbor asbestos fibers for a long period of time, and the fibers may be repeatedly stirred up and released into the air during partial or total demolitions, renovations, or repair. When asbestos is present in the home, infants and children are likely to be exposed.
To learn more about asbestos in household products, please see our Household Products Containing Asbestos page.