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Are you kidding me? There's asbestos in THAT?!

by Brian Jones
Fri, Mar 5th 2021 09:00 am

The history of asbestos as a health hazard actually dates all the way back to ancient Roman times!  It was noted by a Roman scholar that those who were working in the asbestos mines developed lung ailments. 

Although the health risks of asbestos have long been documented, the United States has still not joined 67 other countries that have completely banned the use asbestos. Its use has become highly regulated since the 1970s with governmental organizations such as the Environmental Protection Act (EPA) and Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), but the asbestos industry launched a fierce campaign to keep it from being fully deregulated, citing economic consequences that would happen from job loss.

The many properties of the naturally occurring mineral make it valuable for using it in construction. Asbestos is non-flammable and has high tensile strength. It is a great insulator, resistant to electricity, and resistant to chemicals. It is estimated that asbestos can be found in over 5,000 manufactured products with many of the building materials still in the buildings and homes we live and work in today. 

Current federal and state regulations typically require an inspection of all building materials to be analyzed for asbestos prior to the demolition and renovations of any building.  With the history of asbestos, it is not always easy to know where asbestos may show up. 

There are the common uses of asbestos in construction such a pipe insulation, floor tile, and roofing but what are maybe some of the less common uses we find in our buildings?

  1. Mastic, coatings, and adhesives are used in many applications for construction.  One of the more common means of use is to adhere floor tile to a substrate.  While some uses are obvious it is important when conducting an asbestos inspection to locate all of them.  Wood flooring in areas like gymnasiums could have mastics on the substrate under the wood floor or the mastic could be used as a bedding for the sleepers.  Coatings inside exterior block/brick walls and under ceramic flooring for moisture barriers need to be inspected.  Mastics can be used in walls between two layers of gypsum board, holding countertops and used for ceramic wall tile.  Wood paneling on walls is not always nailed on and the mastic used to glue it to the wall could contain asbestos.
  2. Vermiculite is also a naturally occurring mineral used in building materials.  The problem is it forms under the same geological process as asbestos.  Which means all the vermiculite that was mined in Libby, Montana has a chance of containing some amount of asbestos since the asbestos veins run throughout the vermiculite and is not separated in the manufacturing process.  This has resulted in vermiculite in loose fill insulation and surfacing materials like fire proofing.  Due to the nature of the mineral any loose fill vermiculite insulation is considered asbestos containing while there is a special laboratory analysis needed to determine whether something like fire proofing with vermiculite is considered asbestos.
  3. Cement products can contain asbestos.  In 1929 a company Johns Manville created a line of asbestos containing cement products called transite that included boards and piping.  This term traniste is now applied to other cementitious products containing asbestos.  These products can be found in several uses in buildings.  Exterior uses can include siding, roofing, gutters, drainage pipes and planters.  Inside mechanical spaces asbestos cement products be found as panels to mount electrical equipment, exhaust flues, and refractory cement.  In places where chemicals are used, asbestos cement products can be found as counters, sinks, drying racks, in storage areas, and other areas to protect against heat and chemicals.

The United States is still making moves to get closer to banning asbestos.  On February 16, 2020 risk evaluations under the Toxic Substances Control Act is allowing for the EPA to examine the risks associated with asbestos and the current directive will ensure that the best scientific methods will be applied when conducting the research.  While it is stated that is no level of safe exposure to asbestos, ideally knowledge combined with proper precautions and continued research will lead to a safer environment.  

Please know that in partnering with Sienna Environmental Technologies, you will have access to experience, education, and knowledge when it comes to asbestos safety and awareness.