What Is asbestos?
Asbestos is a mineral fiber. In the past, asbestos was added to a
variety of products to strengthen them and to provide heat insulation
and fire resistance.
How can asbestos affect my health?
From studies of people who were exposed to asbestos in
factories and shipyards, we know that breathing high levels of asbestos
fibers can lead to an increased risk of lung cancer.
Most people exposed to small amounts of asbestos, as we all are in
our daily lives, do not develop health problems. However, if disturbed,
asbestos material may release asbestos fibers, which can be inhaled
into the lungs. The fibers can remain there for a long time, increasing
the risk of disease.
Asbestos material that would crumble easily if handled, or that
has been sawed, scraped, or sanded into a powder, is more likely to
create a health hazard.
Where can I find asbestos and when can it be a problem?
Most products made today do not contain asbestos. Those few
products made which still contain asbestos that could be inhaled are
required to be labeled as such. However, until the 1970s, many types of
building products and insulation materials used in homes contained
Common products that may have been made with asbestos include
insulation, soundproofing, decorative material sprayed on walls and
ceilings, hot water and steam pipes, and furnace ducts.
What should be done about asbestos in the home?
If you think asbestos may be in your home, don't panic! Usually
the best thing is to leave asbestos material that is in good condition
alone, since material in good condition will not release asbestos
fibers. There is no danger unless fibers are released and inhaled into
If asbestos material is more than slightly damaged, or if you are
going to make changes in your home that might disturb it, repair or
removal by a professional is needed.
Asbestos professionals are trained in handling asbestos material.
The type of professional will depend on the type of product and what
needs to be done to correct the problem. You may hire a general
asbestos contractor or, in some cases, a professional trained to handle
specific products containing asbestos.
The federal government has training courses for asbestos
professionals around the country. Some state and local governments also
have or require training or certification courses. Ask asbestos
professionals to document their completion of federal or state-approved
training. Each person performing work in your home should provide proof
of training and licensing in asbestos work, such as completion of
EPA-approved training. State and local health departments or EPA regional offices may have listings of licensed professionals in your area.
For more information, see the EPA's Asbestos Information Resources.
The above information is provided as a public service by the Environmental Protection
Agency for educational purposes.