AQ - hazardous material info
Call 800-606-8007

Insurance and bonding
Employment opportunities
Hazardous material information
Unusual environmental problems
Guess your environmental fines
How to contact us
hazardous material information


The word triggers concern and fear. The presence of asbestos does not always require instant removal. The fear of lawsuits, legal requirements or tenant's/buyer's/lender's requirements, potential fines or other factors may influence a building owners decision as to the treatment of asbestos. It is important to be aware of current and future legal requirements as a commercial or residential property owner. Asbestos is highly regulated and increased federal OSHA regulations have put greater demands on building owners and all employers where employees may come in contact with asbestos. A small release incident may result in serious damage, litigation, fines and even jail time. Since one person cannot possibly know all the regulations, permissible exposure limits, procedures for sampling and removal, etc., you need to have someone qualified to call for assistance.

A. Q. Management & Control is licensed, insured and bonded for asbestos removal and consulting.

This information was prepared to give you information about asbestos and to emphasize the human health effects that may result from exposure to it. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has identified 1.177 sites on its National Priorities List (NPL). Asbestos has been found at 28 of these sites. However, we do not know how many of the 1.177 NPL sites have been evaluated for asbestos. As EPA evaluates more sites, the number of sites at which asbestos is found may change. To find out if you live near a NPL site, or if the commercial building you are planning to buy is a NPL site, contact A.Q. Management & Control, Inc. Some common places where you may find asbestos in a home.

The following information is important for you to know because asbestos may cause harmful health effects and because you need to know how to prevent exposure to asbestos.

When a chemical is released from a large area, such as an industrial plant, or from a container, such as a drum or bottle, it enters the environment as a chemical emission. This emission, which is also called a release, does not always lead to exposure. You can be exposed to a chemical only when you come into contact with the chemical. You may be exposed to it in the environment by breathing, eating, or drinking substances containing the chemical or from skin contact with it.

If you are exposed to a hazardous substance such as asbestos, several factors will determine whether harmful health effects will occur and what type and severity of those health effects will be. These factors include the dose (how much), the duration (how long), the route or pathway by which you are exposed (breathing, eating, drinking, or skin contact), the other chemicals to which you are exposed, and your individual characteristics such as age, sex, nutritional status, family traits, life style, and state of health.

What is asbestos?

Asbestos is the name applied to a group of six different minerals (amosite, chrysotile, tremolite, actinolite, anthophyllite, and crocidolite) that occur naturally in the environment. The most common mineral type is white (chrysotile), but other common types may be, blue (crocidolite), gray (anthophyllite), or brown (amosite). These minerals are made up of long, thin fibers that appear somewhat similar to fiberglass. Asbestos fibers are very strong and are resistant to heat and chemicals. Because of these properties, asbestos fibers have been used in a wide range of products, mostly in building materials, friction products, and heat-resistant fabrics. Because the fibers are so resistant to chemicals, they are also very stable in the environment; they do not evaporate into air or dissolve in water, and they are not broken down over time.

How might I be exposed to asbestos?

You are most likely to be exposed to asbestos by breathing in tiny asbestos fibers suspended in air. These fibers can come from natural outcropping of asbestos, but many come from the degradation or breakdown of man-made products such as insulation, ceiling and floor tiles, roof shingles, cement, automotive break and clutches and many others. Low levels of asbestos can be detected in almost any air sample. For example, in rural areas, there are usually average of around 0.03 to 3 fibers present in a cubic meters (f/m3) of outdoor air*. (A cubic meter is about the amount of air you breath in 1 hour.) Higher levels are usually found in cities, where there may be 3 to 300 f/m3. Close to an asbestos mine or factory, levels could reach 2.000 f/m3 or higher. Levels could also be above average near a building that is being torn down or renovated, or a waste site where asbestos is not properly covered up or stored to protect it from wind erosion.

In indoor air, the concentration of asbestos depends on whether asbestos was used for insulation, ceiling or floor tiles, fireproofing in air plenum, or other purposes, and whether these asbestos-containing materials are good condition or are deteriorated and easily crumbled. Concentrations in homes, schools, and other buildings that contain asbestos range from 30 to 60.000 f/m3. People who work with asbestos (e.g., miners, insulation workers, automobile brake mechanics) are likely to be exposed to much higher levels of asbestos particles in air.

You can also be expose to asbestos by drinking fibers present in water. Even though asbestos does not dissolve in water, fibers can enter by being eroded from natural deposits or pile of waste asbestos, or from cement pipes used to carry drinking water. Most drinking water supplies in the United States have concentrations less than 1 million fibers per liter (MFL)*. (A liter is about the same as a quart.) However, in some locations, there may be 10 to 100 MFL or even higher.

* The number of fibers depends on how they are measured. Values in air are reported as measured by Phase Contrast Microscopy, fibers per cubic centimeter. This is the same measure as used to describe health effects. The values in water are reported as Transmission Electron Microscope fibers. This method is more sensitive than Phase Contrast Microscopy, so values in air and water are not comparable.

How can asbestos enter and leave my body?

If you breathe asbestos fibers into your lungs, some of the fibers will be deposited in the air passages and on the cells that make up your lungs. However, very few of these fibers move through your lungs into your body. Instead, most fibers are removed from your lungs by being carried away in a layer of mucus to the throat, where they are swallowed into the stomach. This usually takes place within a few hours, but fibers that are deposited in the deepest parts of the lung are removed more slowly, and some can remain in place for many years and may never be removed.

If you swallow asbestos fibers (either those present in water or those that are moved to your throat from your lungs), nearly all the fibers pass along your intestine within a few days and are excreted in the feces. A small number of fibers become stuck in the cells that line your stomach or intestines, and a few penetrate all the way through and get into the blood. Some of these become trapped in other tissues, and some are removed in the urine.

How can asbestos affect my health?

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Service has determined that asbestos is a known carcinogen. Information on the health effects of asbestos in humans comes mostly from studies of people who were exposed in the past to high levels of asbestos in the work place. These asbestos worker were found to have increased chances of getting two types of cancer: cancer of the lung tissue itself, and mesothelioma, a cancer of the thin membrane that surrounds the lungs and other internal organs. Both lungs cancer and mesothelioma are usually fatal. These diseases do not appear immediately, but develop only after a number of years. There is also some evidence from studies of workers that breathing asbestos can increase the chances of getting cancer in other locations (e.g., stomach, intestine, esophagus, pancreas, kidneys), but this is less certain. Members of the public who are exposed to lower levels of asbestos may also have increased chance of getting cancer, but the risk are usually small and are difficult to measure directly.

Besides causing cancer, breathing asbestos can also cause a slow accumulation of scar-like tissue in the lungs and in the membrane which surrounds the lungs. This scar-like tissue does not expand and contract like normal lung tissue, an so breathing becomes difficult. Blood flow to the lung may also be decreased, and this causes the heart to enlarge. When the injury is mostly in the lung itself, the disease is called asbestosis. This is a serious disease, and can eventually lead to disability or death in people exposed to high levels of asbestos. However, asbestosis is not usually of concern to people exposed to low levels of asbestos. Similar injury to the membrane surrounding the lung is quite common in people exposed to asbestos, but effects on breathing are usually not serious.

The health effects from swallowing asbestos are unclear. Some groups of people who have been exposed to asbestos fibers in their drinking water have higher-than-average death rates from cancer of the esophagus, stomach, and intestines. However, it is very difficult to tell whether this is caused by asbestos or by something else. Animals that were given very high doses of asbestos in food did not get any more fatal cancer than usual, although some extra nonfatal tumors did occur in the intestines of rats in one study.

What levels of exposure have resulted in harmful health effects?

The levels of asbestos in air that lead to lung disease depend on a larger number of factors. The most important of these are 1) how long you were exposed, 2) how long it has been since your exposure started, and 3) whether you smoked cigarettes. Also, there is a scientific debate concerning the difference in the amount of disease caused by different fiber types and sizes. Some of these difference may be due to the physical and chemical properties of the different fiber types. There are several studies which suggest that amphiboles (tremolite, amosite, and especially crocidolite) may be more potent than chrysotile. However, most data indicate that fiber size is the most important factor for cancer causing potential. Most studies indicate that long fibers (where "long" means greater that about 1/5.000th of an inch) are most likely to cause injury than short fibers (where "short" means less than about 1/10.000th of an inch).

As noted above eating or drinking asbestos fibers may increase risk of cancer, but this is not certain. Eating or drinking asbestos fibers is not thought to cause any harmful noncancer effects.

Is there a medical test to determine whether I have been exposed to asbestos?

The most common test used to determine if you have been exposed to asbestos is a chest X ray. The X ray cannot detect the asbestos fibers themselves, but can detect early sign of lung disease caused by asbestos. While other things besides asbestos can produce similar changes in then lungs, this test is usually reliable for detecting asbestos-related effects.

It is also possible to test for the presence of asbestos fibers in urine, feces, mucus, or material rinse out of the lung by a doctor. Low levels of asbestos fibers are found in these materials for nearly all people. Higher-than-average levels can show that you have been exposed to asbestos, but it is not yet possible to use the results to estimate how much asbestos you have been exposed to or to predict whether you are likely to suffer any health effects.

What recommendations has the federal government made to protect human health?

Despite the ongoing debate concerning health effects resulting from the different asbestos fiber types, ATSDR considers the different mineral forms of asbestos to be known human cancer causing substances with a prolonged latency period of between 10 and 30 years between exposure and the onset of disease. The federal government has taken a number of steps to protect citizens from exposure to asbestos.

First the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has established a very broad ban on the manufacture, processing, importation, and distribution of materials or products that contain asbestos. These regulations were initiated in 1990, and will be in full force by 1997. This ban will result in elimination of asbestos in insulation, brakes, floor and ceiling tiles, cement, paper, and nearly all other asbestos-containing materials. Second, EPA has established regulations that require school system to investigate whether asbestos exposure is a problem inside their school buildings, and if so, to reduce or eliminate the exposure, either by removing the asbestos or by covering it up so it cannot get into air. In addition, EPA provides guidance and support for reducing asbestos exposure in other public buildings. Third, the EPA regulates the release of asbestos from factories and during building demolition or renovation to prevent asbestos from getting into the environment. EPA also regulates the disposal of waste asbestos materials or products, requiring these to be placed only in approved locations. Fourth, EPA has proposed a limit of 7 million fibers per liter on the concentration of long fibers that may be present in drinking water.

In addition, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) regulates the use of asbestos in the preparation of drugs, and restricted the use of asbestos in food-packaging materials.

Finally, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) has established a limit of 100.000 fibers/m3 on the average daily concentration of asbestos allowed in air in the work place.



Home Contact