This is a guest Post by Barbara O’Brien from Maacenter.org
You probably know that asbestos is dangerous. It can cause diseases such as mesothelioma, a deadly lung cancer, and asbestosis, a debilitating disease that interferes with breathing.
You may have heard that asbestos is banned in the United States, but it isn’t. It is still being used in some kinds of flooring and roofing materials; in some automobile parts, such as brake pads; in some fireproof clothing; and in a number of other products. Should this be a concern?
Maybe. It is thought the danger is small, but small is not zero. And asbestos has been banned completely in many other countries. Why isn’t it banned in the U.S.?
Here’s the scoop: In 1989, the Environmental Protection Agency drew up regulations asbestos under the Toxic Substances Control Act. However, two years later, a New Orleans circuit court of appeal overturned the regulations. As a result of the court’s decision, a ban on new uses of asbestos remained in effect, but old uses remained legal.
Asbestos is a mineral that breaks into small fibers when disturbed. The fibers are dangerous if ingested and more dangerous if breathed into the lungs. There are two primary kinds of asbestos, called serpentine and amphibole because of the shapes of the fibers. Amphibole asbestos has been banned globally since the 1980s. It is considered the more dangerous type of asbestos because, if you breathe it, it stays in your lungs longer and causes more damage.
However, serpentine asbestos, especially a form called “chrysotile,” is still in commercial use in the United States and some other countries.
So, asbestos isn’t just something found in the attics of old houses. It might be in a product made this year. Which products should be a concern?
Auto parts, especially brakes or clutch linings. Major U.S. automakers say they do not use asbestos in their parts. However, “aftermarket” suppliers of replacement parts sometimes do use asbestos. If you buy “off brand” parts to save on auto repairs, there could be asbestos in the brake pads and shoes, clutch linings, and other “friction” car parts. Don’t assume asbestos isn’t in auto parts just because it wasn’t listed on a label.
Asbestos in brake pads or other parts shouldn’t be a danger to drivers or passengers. However, auto shop workers and home mechanics do risk danger of exposure to asbestos. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has guidelines for minimizing the asbestos danger of working with car parts.
Construction materials such as roof shingles, floor tiles, cement pipes and boards, caulking compounds, and joint cements. The asbestos in these products is unlikely to break away and become airborne with regular, day-to-day use. If these products someday crumble from age or disaster, however, cleanup crews should take care not to breathe the dust.
Fireproof clothing and protective gear. First, if you aren’t a firefighter, stay away from fireproof clothing or fire protection gear. Especially as the clothing and gear become worn, fibers could break away and get into your lungs. If you are a firefighter, wear respirator masks with approved HEPA filters when fighting fires or training in fireproof clothing and gear.
If you do work with such products, please don’t be complacent just because you feel fine now, seek mesothelioma treatment. It can take many years for symptoms to develop after exposure to asbestos.