Asbestos FAQ

  1. What is asbestos?
  2. What are the types of asbestos?
  3. What is asbestos exposure?
  4. What are some types of asbestos-related diseases?
  5. Why is asbestos a problem?
  6. What are the requirements for building renovation and demolition projects?
  7. What is a “facility?”
  8. What is a renovation?
  9. What is a demolition?

What is asbestos?

Asbestos is the name given to a group of six different fibrous minerals that occur naturally in the environment. Asbestos fibers are too small to be seen by the naked eye. They do not dissolve in water or evaporate. They are resistant to heat, fire, and chemical or biological degradation.

Asbestos is also used in many commercial products, including insulation, brake linings, and roofing shingles.

What are the types of asbestos?

There are two general types of asbestos: amphibole and chrysotile (fibrous serpentine). Amphibole fibers are brittle, have a rod or needle shape, and are less common in commercial products. Chrysotile asbestos has long, flexible fibers. This type of asbestos is most commonly used in commercial products. Exposure to both types of asbestos increases the likelihood of developing asbestos-related diseases, though amphibole fibers tend to stay in the lungs longer, and thought to more likely increase the occurrence of disease, such as mesothelioma.

What is asbestos exposure?

Asbestos exposure results from breathing in asbestos fibers. If rocks, soil, or products containing asbestos are disturbed, they can release asbestos fibers into the air. These fibers can be breathed into your lungs and could remain there for a lifetime. Asbestos exposure is not a problem if solid asbestos is left alone and not disturbed.

Asbestos-related diseases can be:

  • Non-cancerous Asbestosis is scarring of the lungs. It is typically caused by very high exposure levels over a prolonged period of time, as seen in work-related asbestos exposure. Smoking increases the risk of developing asbestosis. Some late stage symptoms include progressive shortness of breath, a persistent cough, and chest pain.
  • Pleural changes or pleural plaques include thickening and hardening of the pleura (the lining that covers the lungs and chest cavity). Most people will not have symptoms, but some may have decreased lung function. Some people may develop persistent shortness of breath with exercise or even at rest if they have significantly decreased lung function.
  • Lung cancer is cancer of the lungs and lung passages. Cigarette smoking combined with asbestos exposure greatly increases the likelihood of lung cancer. Lung cancer caused by smoking or asbestos looks the same. Symptoms for lung cancer can vary. Some late stage symptoms can include chronic cough, chest pain, unexplained weight loss, and coughing up blood.
  • Mesothelioma is a rare cancer mostly associated with asbestos exposure. It occurs in the covering of the lungs and sometimes the lining of the abdominal cavity. Some late stage symptoms include chest pain, persistent shortness of breath, and unexplained weight loss. Coughing up blood is not common.

Why is asbestos a problem?

When asbestos is disturbed, it can break down into microscopic fibers that may become airborne. Once airborne, these fibers can be inhaled and trapped in the lungs, posing a health threat. Breathing asbestos can cause respiratory diseases including asbestosis, lung cancer, and mesothelioma, a cancer of the chest cavity lining. More detailed information can be found on EPA’s asbestos web site.

What are the requirements for building renovation and demolition projects?

The greatest potential for exposure to asbestos fibers now occurs when asbestos containing building materials (ACBM) are disturbed during either building renovations or demolition.

Inspections. Federal regulation require that a thorough inspection be conducted for the presence of asbestos containing building materials (ACBM) prior to any demolition or renovation of any facility, except single family homes. The inspection must be conducted by a person accredited in the identification of ACBMs. 

What is a “facility?”

As defined in the regulation, a “facility” is any institutional, commercial, public, industrial or residential structure, installation or building (including any structure, installation or building containing condominiums, or individual dwelling units operated as a residential cooperative, but excluding residential buildings having four or fewer dwelling units); any ship; or any active or inactive waste disposal site. Any building, structure or installation that contains a loft used as a dwelling is not considered residential. Any structure, installation, or building that was previously subject to the Asbestos NESHAP is not excluded, regardless of its current use or function.

What is a renovation?

A renovation is altering a facility or one or more facility components in any way, including the stripping or removal of Regulated Asbestos Containing Materials (RACM) from a facility component. A renovation could be, but not limited to, any interior renovation or remodel not affecting load-supporting structural members or a roof replacement.

What is a demolition?

A demolition means the wrecking or taking out of any load-supporting structural member of a facility together with any related handling operations or the intentional burning (i.e. practice burns) of any facility.