About Asbestos         Asbestos in the Home        Health Risks


What is Asbestos?


“Asbestos” is a commonly used word that describes groups of naturally occurring fibrous minerals known to cause cancer. Individual fibers are invisible to the naked eye, and positive identification is required through laboratory analysis. Asbestos has been mined for use in over 3,000 products, due to its versatility and wide ranging properties such as resistance to fire and heat, chemical corrosion, flexibility and high tensile strength. Asbestos is regulated by federal, state and at times local agencies. The regulated fibrous asbestos minerals fall into one of six mineral fiber types: chrysotile (serpentine), crocidolite (riebeckite), amosite (cummingtonite-grunerite), anthophyllite, tremolite, and actinolite. Each of these fiber types has a distinctive fiber shape (morphology) and crystal habit, or manner in which it forms.

Is asbestos naturally occurring or only found in products?

Piece of Naturally Occuring Asbestos

Asbestos is naturally occurring and mined specifically for use in products. Information obtained from a document posted on the U.S.G.S. website for the eastern United States details a total of three hundred thirty-one (331) sites where naturally occurring asbestos of various amounts and types have been documented.

Is asbestos still mined today?

Yes.  According to the United States Geological Services website, asbestos use has been declining over the last ten years, but is still an active commodity. The U.S.G.S. tracks all minerals and has industry trends and statistics since 1994 on its website.

Where is asbestos found, and what products contain asbestos?

Many homes, particularly those built before 1990, contain some type of asbestos-containing material (ACM).  EPA had a partial ban and phase out of Asbestos in 1989, however, the rule was remanded.  EPA Asbestos Ban and Phase Out Federal Register.


Some examples of ACM building products include the following:


  •  Floor Covering and Adhesives
  • Exterior Siding  
  •  Boilers
  •  Ceiling Tiles
  •  Pipe Insulation
  •  Floor Tiles
  •  Roof Flashing
  •  Plaster Walls
  •  Roof Shingles
  •  Wallboard joint compound

A "friable" asbestos containing material (ACM) can be easily crushed, pulverized or reduced to powder by hand pressure (materials such as insulation, ceiling tiles, dried out caulking.)  A "non-friable" ACM can not be crushed, pulverized, or reduced to powder by hand pressure (materials such as table tops, roofing and flexible flooring.) In general, the more friable the material is, the greater the potential for asbestos exposure. Just because there is ACM present does not necessarily mean that it is a health risk, but you must be careful so the materials are not accidentally disturbed.


What does it look like? How do I know if its asbestos?


Spray Applied Fireproofing ACM

You can’t tell if a product has asbestos by looking at it. Asbestos can only be verified by laboratory analysis. If you think that a product may contain asbestos and preparations are underway for remodeling or demolition, DPH recommends having the home inspected by a CT licensed Asbestos Inspector or Management Planner to identify suspect ACM. If no activity is taking place in an area where ACM is identified, it is best to leave the material in place and avoid disturbing it. 


The handling and disturbance of ACM is subject to various state and federal regulations. The Connecticut Department of Public Health (DPH) details requirements for licensing of asbestos abatement contractors and consultants, abatement work practices and criteria for determining when asbestos abatement has been properly completed. The best response for ACM which is in good condition is to LEAVE IT ALONE!

Asbestos Health Risks

Health risks commonly associated with exposure to asbestos include:


  • Asbestosis – a condition in which the lungs become scarred with fibrous tissue making breathing more and more difficult, often requiring the victim to use oxygen.
  • Cancer – cancer of the lungs is the most common cancer associated with exposure. Other areas may become cancerous including the throat, gastrointestinal tract, and kidneys.
  • Mesothelioma - a rare, often fatal cancer, usually occurring in the chest cavity.

Exposure to asbestos alone is not the single determining factor as to whether or not an individual will contract an asbestos-related illness or disease. The levels of asbestos in air that may result in lung disease depend on several factors. According to the Agency for Toxic Substances Disease Registry (ATSDR,) other factors which must be considered include:  the dose (how much,) the duration (how long,) the fiber type (mineral form and size distribution,) and how you come in contact with it. You must also consider the other chemicals you’re exposed to and your age, sex, diet, family traits, lifestyle (including whether you smoke tobacco,) and state of health.


For more on the ATSDR toxicological profile for asbestos go to: http://www.atsdr.cdc.gov/toxprofiles/tp61.pdf


Person in a hazardous material protective suit working on a pipeMost of the data related to health effects from asbestos exposure are based on studies of asbestos workers in work environments known to be well above the typical back ground air. Indications from these studies are that lung scarring from repeated exposure, or asbestosis, often resulted from this type of environmental work exposure. Workers may be at greater risk of contracting lung cancer, particularly if they smoke. The risk from combining asbestos exposure with smoking is multiplied from 54 to 99 times.


The pleural cavity is the body cavity that encases your lungs.  Diseases that effect this cavity are often called pleural diseases.  Pleural diseases can be malignant (cancer causing) or nonmalignant. The nonmalignant pleural diseases caused by asbestos exposure are pleural plaques, pleural thickening and pleural effusion. More on these diseases can be found at the National Institutes of Health website.

Mesothelioma is the most deadly form of asbestos cancer, and affects the mesothelial cells (cells that make up the membrane that line the pleural cavity, abdominal cavity, and heart sac,) or those which line either the chest or abdomen.  Pleural mesothelioma is when the cells of the chest wall are damaged.  Peritoneal mesothelioma, cancer in the abdomen, is another form of mesothelioma thought to be caused by coughing up and swallowing asbestos fibers.  Mesothelioma symptoms may not appear until 10 to 40 years after first exposed to asbestos.