This page is intended to provide the public with general information concerning asbestos and where and how to get more information.
- What is asbestos?
- Asbestos health effects
- Where can asbestos be found?
- What if I have asbestos in my home?
- Where can I find an accredited laboratory to test for asbestos?
- EPA's role in asbestos
- Other federal asbestos efforts
What is asbestos?
Asbestos is the name given to a number of naturally occurring fibrous minerals with high tensile strength, the ability to be woven, and resistance to heat and most chemicals. Because of these properties, asbestos fibers have been used in a wide range of manufactured goods, including roofing shingles, ceiling and floor tiles, paper and cement products, textiles, coatings, and friction products such as automobile clutch, brake and transmission parts. The Toxic Substances Control Act defines asbestos as the asbestiform varieties of: chrysotile (serpentine); crocidolite (riebeckite); amosite (cummingtonite/grunerite); anthophyllite; tremolite; and actinolite.
Asbesos health effects
Exposure to asbestos increases your risk of developing lung disease. That risk is made worse by smoking. In general, the greater the exposure to asbestos, the greater the chance of developing harmful health effects. Disease symptoms may take several years to develop following exposure. If you are concerned about possible exposure, consult a physician who specializes in lung diseases (pulmonologist).
Exposure to airborne friable asbestos may result in a potential health risk because persons breathing the air may breathe in asbestos fibers. Continued exposure can increase the amount of fibers that remain in the lung. Fibers embedded in lung tissue over time may cause serious lung diseases including asbestosis, lung cancer, or mesothelioma. Smoking increases the risk of developing illness from asbestos exposure.
Three of the major health effects associated with asbestos exposure include:
Asbestosis -- Asbestosis is a serious, progressive, long-term non-cancer disease of the lungs. It is caused by inhaling asbestos fibers that irritate lung tissues and cause the tissues to scar. The scarring makes it hard for oxygen to get into the blood. Symptoms of asbestosis include shortness of breath and a dry, crackling sound in the lungs while inhaling. There is no effective treatment for asbestosis.
Lung Cancer -- Lung cancer causes the largest number of deaths related to asbestos exposure. People who work in the mining, milling, manufacturing of asbestos, and those who use asbestos and its products are more likely to develop lung cancer than the general population. The most common symptoms of lung cancer are coughing and a change in breathing. Other symptoms include shortness of breath, persistent chest pains, hoarseness, and anemia.
Mesothelioma -- Mesothelioma is a rare form of cancer that is found in the thin lining (membrane) of the lung, chest, abdomen, and heart and almost all cases are linked to exposure to asbestos. This disease may not show up until many years after asbestos exposure. This is why great efforts are being made to prevent school children from being exposed.
For more information on these and other health effects of asbestos exposure see the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry's Web site.
Where can asbestos be found?
Asbestos fibers are incredibly strong and have properties that make them resistant to heat. Many products are in use today that contain asbestos. Most of these are materials used in heat and acoustic insulation, fire proofing, and roofing and flooring. In 1989, EPA identified the following asbestos product categories. Many of these materials may still be in use.
|asbestos-cement corrugated sheet||asbestos-cement flat sheet||asbestos-cement pipe||asbestos-cement shingle|
|roof coatings||flooring felt||pipeline wrap||roofing felt|
|asbestos clothing||non-roof coatings||vinyl/asbestos floor tile||automatic transmission components|
|clutch facings||disc brake pads||drum brake linings||brake blocks|
|commercial and industrial asbestos friction products||sheet and beater-add gaskets (except specialty industrial)||commercial, corrugated and specialty paper||millboard|
What if I have asbestos in my home?
The best thing to do is to leave asbestos-containing material that is in good condition alone. If unsure whether or not the material contains asbestos, you may consider hiring a professional asbestos inspector to sample and test the material for you. Before you have your house remodeled, you should find out whether asbestos-containing materials are present. If asbestos-containing material is becoming damaged (i.e., unraveling, frayed, breaking apart) you should immediately isolate the area (keep pets and children away from the area) and refrain from disturbing the material (either by touching it or walking on it). You should then immediately contact an asbestos professional for consultation. It is best to receive an assessment from one firm and any needed abatement from another firm to avoid any conflict of interest. In such a scenario as described above, asbestos-containing material does not necessarily need to be removed, but may rather be repaired by an asbestos professional via encapsulation or enclosure. Removal is often unnecessary.
Where can I find an accredited laboratory to test for asbestos?
The National Institute for Standards and Technology (NIST) maintains a listing of accredited asbestos laboratories under the National Voluntary Laboratory Accreditation Program (NVLAP). You may call NIST at (301) 975-4016.
- NVLAP Accredited Laboratories for the Polarized Light Microscopy (PLM) Test Method
- NVLAP Accredited Laboratories for the Transmission Electron Microscopy (TEM) Test Method
EPA's role in asbestos
Office of Air and Radiation/Office of Air Quality Planning Standards (OAQPS)
- The Office of Air Quality Planning and Standards is part of EPA's Office of Air and Radiation. Its primary mission is to preserve and improve air quality in the United States. OAQPS is the EPA Office responsible for implementing the Asbestos National Emission Standards for Hazardous Air Pollutants (NESHAP) found at 40 CFR Part 61, Subpart M.
EPA Region 4 asbestos NESHAP documents
- Asbestos NESHAP Adequately Wet Guidance
- A Guide to Normal Demolition Practices Under the Asbestos NESHAP
- Reporting and Record keeping Requirements for Waste Disposal
- For other documents not listed here, go to the Region 4 Asbestos Web page.
Office of Enforcement and Compliance Assurance
The Office of Enforcement and Compliance Assurance (OECA), working in partnership with EPA Regional Offices, state governments, tribal governments and other federal agencies, ensures compliance with the nation's environmental laws. Employing an integrated approach of compliance assistance, compliance incentives and innovative civil and criminal enforcement, OECA and its partners seek to maximize compliance and reduce threats to public health and the environment.
NESHAP Applicability Determination Index is a database of interpretations of the asbestos NESHAP regulations.
Office of Prevention, Pesticides and Toxic Substances (OPPTS)
- The Office of Prevention, Pesticides and Toxic Substances regulates asbestos in school buildings and in certain asbestos products, and implements the Asbestos Model Accreditation Plan (MAP). States use the MAP as a standard for training and accrediting asbestos professionals. OPPTS also implements the Asbestos Worker Protection Rule which protects workers in states without Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) Safety and Health Plans.
Office of Research and Development (ORD)
The Office of Research and Development (ORD) is the scientific research arm of EPA. ORD's leading-edge research helps provide the solid underpinning of science and technology for the Agency. ORD conducts research on ways to prevent pollution, protect human health, and reduce risk. The work at ORD laboratories, research centers, and offices across the country helps improve the quality of air, water, soil, and the way we use resources. Applied science at ORD builds our understanding of how to protect and enhance the relationship between humans and the ecosystems of Earth.
EPA Integrated Risk Information System (IRIS) - IRIS is a database of human health effects that may result from exposure to various substances found in the environment. IRIS was initially developed for EPA staff in response to a growing demand for consistent information on chemical substances for use in risk assessments, decision-making and regulatory activities. The information in IRIS is intended for those without extensive training in toxicology, but with some knowledge of health sciences.
Office of Solid Waste and Emergency Response (OSWER)
OSWER provides policy, guidance and direction for the Agency's solid waste and emergency response programs. OSWER develops guidelines for the land disposal of hazardous waste and underground storage tanks and provides technical assistance to all levels of government to establish safe practices in waste management. The Office administers the Brownfields program which supports state and local governments in redeveloping and reusing potentially contaminated sites. OSWER also manages the Superfund program to respond to abandoned and active hazardous waste sites and accidental oil and chemical releases as well as encourages innovative technologies to address contaminated soil and groundwater.
Superfund Actions - Superfund's site information page allows the user to locate information on active Superfund Sites. Sites can be located by a variety of parameters.
Superfund's Action in Libby, Montana - U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Region 8 sent an Emergency Response Team to Libby, Montana, in November 1999 to investigate asbestos-contaminated vermiculite. Region 8 also maintains a timeline of current and proposed actions for the Libby, Montana, site.
Office of Water/Office of Ground Water and Drinking Water (OGWDW)
- The Office of Ground Water and Drinking Water (OGWDW) regulates contaminants in drinking water. OGWDW maintains an asbestos fact sheet, Asbestos in Drinking Water.
Read about EPA's November 2005 Asbestos Project Plan.
Other federal asbestos efforts
Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR) - ATSDR conducts health-related activities around asbestos exposure and provides informational materials and resources for individuals and health care providers who are concerned about exposure. This Web site provides the following information resources to assist concerned individuals:
Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) - The Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) is an independent federal regulatory agency that was created in 1972 by Congress in the Consumer Product Safety Act. In that law, Congress directed the Commission to "protect the public against unreasonable risks of injuries and deaths associated with consumer products."
Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA) - MSHA addresses asbestos issues as they relate to mining activities. The mission of the MSHA is to administer the provisions of the Federal Mine Safety and Health Act of 1977 (Mine Act) and to enforce compliance with mandatory safety and health standards as a means to eliminate fatal accidents; to reduce the frequency and severity of nonfatal accidents; to minimize health hazards; and to promote improved safety and health conditions in the Nation's mines. MSHA carries out the mandates of the Mine Act at all mining and mineral processing operations in the United States, regardless of size, number of employees, commodity mined, or method of extraction.
National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) - The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) is the Federal agency responsible for conducting research and making recommendations for the prevention of work-related disease and injury. The Institute is part of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). NIOSH maintains a listing of Asbestos publications. NIOSH's publications may be of interest to the general public but are targeted specifically to occupational safety and health issues.
National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) - Founded in 1901, NIST is a non-regulatory federal agency within the U.S. Commerce Department's Technology Administration. NIST's mission is to develop and promote measurements, standards, and technology to enhance productivity, facilitate trade, and improve the quality of life. NIST maintains a listing of accredited asbestos laboratories under the National Voluntary Laboratory Accreditation Program (NVLAP).
- NVLAP Accredited Laboratories for the Polarized Light Microscopy (PLM) Test Method.
- NVLAP Accredited Laboratories for the Transmission Electron Microscopy (TEM) Test Method.
Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) - An estimated 1.3 million employees in construction and general industry face significant asbestos exposure on the job. Heaviest exposures occur in the construction industry, particularly during the removal of asbestos during renovation or demolition. Employees are also likely to be exposed during the manufacture of asbestos products (such as textiles, friction products, insulation, and other building materials) and during automotive brake and clutch repair work. Asbestos is well recognized as a health hazard and is highly regulated. OSHA and EPA asbestos rules are intertwined.
U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) - USGS monitors asbestos importation and consumption domestically and maps the location of naturally occurring asbestos.