Basic Asbestos FAQ

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What is asbestos?

The word “asbestos” is the term for six types of naturally occurring minerals: chrysotile, amosite, crocidolite, tremolite, anthophyllite and actinolite. Their physical properties can be useful for several reasons: the minerals are resistant to heat, electrical, and chemical damage, and provide excellent sound absorption and tensile strength. Unfortunately, asbestos is also toxic and a carcinogen.

Chrysotile (more commonly referred to as “white” asbestos) Amosite (more commonly referred to as “brown” asbestos and sometimes “gray” asbestos) Crocidolite (more commonly referred to as “blue” asbestos)
Tremolite Anthophyllite Actinolite

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What was asbestos used for?

The unique properties of asbestos make it hazardous. Asbestos fibers break into tiny particles that become deeply embedded in human tissue when breathed. When you see visible asbestos in the air, the number of the tiniest and most dangerous fibers is in the millions. Asbestos dust floats longer than other dusts. Asbestos has unique aerodynamic properties: the mineral frays into tiny microscopic rectangles, and they float in the air like little balsa airplanes.

Asbestos was most often used in building construction and shipbuilding. Concrete, bricks, pipes, cement, gaskets, insulation, flooring, roofing, drywall, and joint compound at one time all used asbestos as one of their components. Formerly, this potentially deadly material was also manufactured into automobile brake pads, shoes, and clutch discs.

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When did they stop using asbestos in building materials?

Surprisingly, in the United States, asbestos in building materials has never been completely banned. The quick summary is that the EPA issued bans on specific asbestos products beginning in 1973. EPA then tried to issue a total ban on asbestos in 1989 by issuing a final rule under Section 6 of the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA). But the ban was overturned by the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals in 1991. The EPA issued a ban on asbestos products in 2019 under the new TSCA, but under that 2019 rule companies can petition the EPA for approval to import asbestos products. So it is not a total ban.

Asbestos use was banned by the European Union as of January 1st, 2005. Most developed countries also follow these guidelines, with the exception of the United States, Russia, and Canada. Unfortunately, asbestos is still widely used in third-world countries, with little or no protection for workers or consumers.

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