Asbestos Fact Sheet
What is Asbestos?
Asbestos is a naturally occurring fibrous mineral. The most common types of asbestos are Chrysotile (white) and Amosite (brown / off-white). Asbestos fibers can be very small – up to 700 times smaller than a human hair. Because it is fire-resistant, resists many chemicals, and is an excellent insulator, asbestos was added to a variety of building materials and other products.
Usually asbestos is mixed with other materials to actually form the products. Floor tiles, for example, may contain only a small percentage of asbestos. Depending on what the product is, the amount of asbestos in asbestos containing materials (ACM) may vary from 1%-100%.
Where is Asbestos Found?
Asbestos may be found in many different products and many different places. Generally, any of the following materials* installed before 1981 are presumed to contain asbestos:
- Sprayed on fire proofing and insulation in buildings
- Insulation for pipes and boilers
- Wall and ceiling insulation
- Ceiling tiles
- Floor tiles
- Putties, caulks, and cements (such as in chemical carrying cement pipes)
- Roofing shingles
- Siding shingles on old residential buildings
- Wall and ceiling texture in older buildings and homes
- Joint compound in older buildings and homes
- Brake linings and clutch pads
* this listing is not complete
Buildings constructed prior to 1981 will have asbestos postings in most mechanical rooms. Copies of the postings are available in a binder in selected shops and University departments.
Part of Asbestos Posting
Each posting contains a listing of building components known to contain asbestos and known to be asbestos-free, based on testing by an outside laboratory. Next to this building summary is a list of products that must be presumed to contain asbestos, unless otherwise noted.
When is Asbestos Dangerous
When left intact and undisturbed, asbestos containing materials do not pose a health risk to people working or living in buildings. Asbestos containing material is not generally considered to be harmful unless it is releasing dust or fibers into the air where they can be inhaled or ingested. Many of the fibers will become trapped in the mucous membranes of the nose and throat where they can then be removed, but some may pass deep into the lungs, or, if swallowed, into the digestive tract.
Asbestos is hazardous when it is friable. The term “friable” means that the asbestos is easily crumbled by hand, releasing fibers into the air. Sprayed on asbestos insulation is highly friable. Asbestos floor tile is not.
Asbestos-containing ceiling tiles, floor tiles, undamaged laboratory cabinet tops, shingles, fire doors, siding shingles, etc. will not release asbestos fibers unless they are disturbed or damaged in some way.
Asbestos pipe and boiler insulation does not present a hazard unless the protective canvas covering is cut or damaged in such a way that the asbestos underneath is actually exposed to the air.
Asbestos Health Effects
There are three primary diseases associated with asbestos exposure – asbestosis, lung cancer and mesothelioma.
Asbestosis is a serious, chronic, non-cancerous respiratory disease. Inhaled asbestos fibers aggravate lung tissues, which causes them to scar. Symptoms of asbestosis include shortness of breath and a dry crackling sound in the lungs while inhaling.
Lung cancer causes the largest number of deaths related to asbestos exposure. 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 is a rare form of cancer that most often occurs in the thin membrane lining of the lungs, chest, abdomen, and (rarely) heart. Virtually all cases of mesothelioma are linked with asbestos exposure.
Your Risk Factor
Two things seem to determine your likelihood of developing one of these asbestos related diseases:
• The amount and duration of exposure – the more you are exposed to asbestos and the more fibers that enter your body, the more likely you are to develop asbestos related problems. The vast majority of people who have contracted these diseases were routinely exposed well above permissible exposure limits.
• Whether or not you smoke – Being exposed to high levels of asbestos may increase your risk of lung cancer up to 5 times. Smoking can increase your risk of lung cancer by 10 times. If you are exposed to asbestos and you smoke, you are up to 50 to 90 times more likely to develop lung cancer than non-smokers who are not exposed to asbestos.
McCosh Health Center offers many Smoking Cessation Programs. If you are interested in these programs, contact Sara Ingraffia in Employee Health at x8-5035.
Avoiding Asbestos Exposure
Under no circumstances would University employees be expected to work in areas with dangerous levels of asbestos. In order to avoid being exposed to asbestos, you must be aware of the locations it is likely to be found. If you do not know whether something contains asbestos or not, assume that it is until it is verified otherwise.
In many cases we cannot tell the difference between asbestos and non-asbestos forms of the same product (e.g. pipe insulation, fireproofing etc.) just by looking at it. Most times we have to take a sample of the material and have it tested to confirm whether or not it contains asbestos. Environmental Health and Safety is available to assist in determining whether a material contains asbestos, and to assess the hazards.
Princeton employees are prohibited from intentionally disturbing asbestos containing materials. Any removal or disturbance of asbestos must be performed by outside certified asbestos abatement contractors.
any asbestos-containing materials or suspected materials.
Working Around Asbestos
Occasionally, employees may need to perform work in areas where asbestos containing materials are present, but are not intended to be disturbed. If there is any concern that fibers may inadvertently be released, workers may be asked to wear respirators. In these cases, EHS should be notified so that exposure monitoring may be conducted during and/or after the project.
Several of our buildings have floors tiles that contain asbestos. Regular washing, waxing, stripping and buffing of these tiles will not release dangerous levels of asbestos. In order to prevent release of asbestos from these tiles, the following rules apply:
- Never sand floor tiles
- When stripping floors, use low abrasion pads at speed lower than 300 rpm and use wet methods
- Burnishing or dry buffing may be done only when the flooring has enough of a finish so that the pad cannot contact the asbestos-containing material.
- Broken and damaged asbestos floor tiles must also be removed by asbestos abatement workers.
Damaged Asbestos Materials
It is important to report any damaged asbestos-containing materials to the Mechanical Trades Manager (x8-3967) or EHS (x8-5294) immediately. Debris from damaged asbestos must be cleaned up by licensed asbestos abatement workers.
Do not attempt to clean up or fix the problem yourself! Disturb the material as little as possible. Take measures to prevent others from disturbing the spill until the asbestos abatement crew arrives.
By knowing where asbestos is likely to be located and then taking measures not to disturb it, you will protect yourself and others from exposure to this hazardous substance.
For More Information
Contact Environmental Health and Safety at x8-5294. There are many federal and state asbestos regulations, all with the goal of minimizing exposure to asbestos. EHS has copies of these standards and the new Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) standard available.