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MOST COMMONLY ASKED QUESTIONS ABOUT ASBESTOS

By
Services for Real Estate Pros with I Am Marketing

Q.        What is asbestos?

A.        Asbestos is the common name for a group of minerals.  When the fibrous material is separated from the rock during the mining process, the fibers are incorporated into manufactured items.  The asbestos is mixed with binding materials such as epoxy, magnesium or cement, and shaped to meet a certain need.

Q.        How is asbestos used?

A.        Asbestos has been used in approximately 3,000 different products.  The amount of asbestos contained in these products varies from less than one percent to 100 percent, depending on the product's use.

            Approximately two-thirds of the mined asbestos was used by the construction industry in building materials, insulation and miscellaneous forms.

Q.        Where will we encounter ACM's during the course of our work activities?

A.        Any building built before 1975 is likely to contain some form of asbestos.  The products frequently encountered by our employees fit into three general categories:

1.         Mechanical Insulation:  Exists in forms which include pressure vessels (boilers, chillers, water tanks), pipes, valves, fittings, roof drain pipes, and duct work.  Use of asbestos insulation and lagging materials was prohibited in the U.S. by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) in 1975.

2.         Surfacing Materials:  Includes sprayed-on or troweled-on fireproofing, acoustical, thermal or decorative materials applied onto ceiling, walls or structural members.  In 1973, the EPA restricted the spraying of ACM in the U.S., and in 1978 the use of troweled-on or wet-applied ACM's was prohibited.

3.         Other Building Materials:  Includes many forms of ACM such as ceiling/wall tile, floor tile, sheet rock and transite board.

Q.        What do these ACM's look like?

A.       

1.         Mechanical Insulation:  Asbestos-containing insulation materials can appear as follows:

*         A white, gray or brown chalky appearance.

*         Pre-formed into batts, blocks and pipe covering.

*         A cement or mud-type material, gray in color.

2.         Surfacing Materials:  Sprayed-on, molded, wet-applied or thermal insulation appearing as follows:

*         Soft and fluffy, varying from white to dark gray in color.

*         Sprayed on structural steel members, undersides of decks, ceilings and walls as fireproofing or acoustical treatment.

*         Material may be exposed, concealed by a suspended ceiling, or painted.

*         Firm, open pore, plaster-like material with a textured surface.

3.         Other Building Materials:  It is nearly impossible to determine visually if materials in this category such as ceiling tile, wall tile, floor tile, transite board and sheet rock, contain asbestos.

Q.        If it is difficult to tell if a material contains asbestos, how can the content be determined?

A.        The only way to make a determination is to collect a bulk sample of the material and submit it to a laboratory for analysis.  Because Johnson Controls' asbestos policy prohibits our employees from taking bulk samples of suspected ACM, the collection and analysis of these samples is the responsibility of the building owner.  Johnson Controls employees will only make visual determinations based on the appearance, and notify the building owner if further determination is needed.

Q.        If we run into material that contains asbestos, is it always a health hazard?

A.        Unless the material is disturbed or dislocated to the extent that asbestos fibers are released, there is little danger to our employees or the area occupants.

Q.        Why is disturbed ACM hazardous to my health?

A.        Once asbestos fibers are disturbed, they can float in the air for hours, even days.  Fibers, so small they are not visible to the human eye, can bypass our nose hairs and mucous membranes which typically trap inhaled particles, and be inhaled into the lungs or swallowed.  Once in the lungs, asbestos fibers may lodge and remain there.

Q.        Why is it so important to prevent exposure to asbestos?

A.        Exposure to asbestos may cause cancer or lung disease.  Individual reactions to asbestos exposure vary greatly.  Most people will not develop disease from minor exposure.  Exposures, however, have cumulative effects.  It can take 15-40 years after exposure for an asbestos-related disease to surface--if at all.  While asbestos is so prevalent in our society that all of us may have been exposed to some extent in the past, (as school children, fibers released from automobile brake linings, etc.), we would rather be safe than sorry when it comes to exposing our employees to additional risks.  Eliminating work place exposure to asbestos is the safest approach.

Q.        How do I know if I've been exposed to asbestos?

A.        It is important to note that nearly all of us are exposed to low levels of asbestos on a daily basis in both indoor and outdoor air.  This is because of the widespread use of asbestos in everything from brakes to building materials.

Asbestos exposure does not have an immediate effect on the body--like making you itch or cough.  Based on the body's reaction to asbestos fibers, asbestos-related diseases develop 15-40 years after exposure.

Q.        If I am already at risk once exposure to asbestos occurs, why should further exposure be prevented?

A.        The more exposure a person has to asbestos, the more likely the person will develop an asbestos-related disease.  If future exposure is reduced, the chances of developing an asbestos-related disease is also reduced.

If a person exposed to asbestos smokes cigarettes, the chances of getting lung cancer can increase substantially--50 to 90%.  If you've been exposed to asbestos, the first step you should take to reduce the risk of getting lung cancer is to stop smoking.

Q.        What can be done about my past exposure to asbestos?

A.        The exposure to asbestos that may have occurred in the past cannot be changed or reversed in any way.  The most important thing you can do is avoid future asbestos exposure.