What is asbestos?
Asbestos is a name to describe minerals that convert into fibre-like material when they are crushed. This occurs when the inter-molecular bonding is stronger only in one direction, and any physical force will result in dissociation lattice and formation of long needle-like material. An asbestos material can further subdivide into even finer fibres until a molecular dimension is reached. The subdividing property of asbestos into molecular level is the main difference between asbestos to the synthetic glass fibres and mineral wools. The synthetic materials are manufactured into fiber-like material and are not capable to further subdivide into molecular levels.
There are many types of asbestos material; some common ones follow:
Chrysotile (White), Mg3(Si2O5)(OH)4
Amosite/Grunerite (Brown) Fe7Si8O22(OH)2
Crocidolite (Blue) Na2(Fe,Mg)5Si8O22(OH)2
Unti thel 1980s, asbestos was used as insulation against fire and sound. It was put inside walls and ceilings in office buildings and public places. It was used as an insulator for hot water heating systems.
Asbestos has also been found in many products around the house. It has been used in clapboard; shingles and felt for roofing; exterior siding; pipe and boiler covering; compounds and cement, such as caulk, putty, roof patching, furnace cement and driveway coating; wallboard; textured and latex paints; acoustical ceiling tiles and plaster; vinyl floor tiles; appliance wiring; hair dryers; irons and ironing board pads; flame-resistant aprons and electric blankets; and clay pottery. Loose-fill vermiculite insulation may contain traces of “amphibole” asbestos.
Asbestos as a Health Hazard
Asbestos poses health risks only when fibres are in the air and people breathe them. Asbestos fibres at sub-molecular diameters can lodge into the lung cells, causing scarring but not killing the living cell. This can lead to the formation of cancer cells and ultimately lung cancer.
When can asbestos be a problem in the home?
Removal of material that contains asbestos can cause formation airborne asbestos fibre. Breathing the asbestos fibre is a health hazard. Some examples are as follows:
- Ripping away old asbestos insulation from around a hot water tank
- Sanding or scraping vinyl asbestos floor tiles
- Sanding plaster containing asbestos
How to minimize the asbestos risks in the home
If you suspect that a product in your home contains asbestos, have an experienced contractor inspect them. If there is asbestos, the best interim measure is to seal it so that fibres will not be released into indoor air. Have an experienced contractor perform the removal of asbestos-containing products in your home.