Updated on
Written by HCHW Writers

Asbestos is any one of six related mineral fibers that occur naturally in the Earth’s crust. These fibers are strong, flexible, and incredibly heat- and corrosion-resistant, qualities that led to asbestos’ historical use in thousands of products. Asbestos use was generally phased out in the 1970s, though it continues to be used today in a few items like brake pads.

Asbestos is not hazardous when left intact. It only becomes a health threat when its individual fibers get loose and become airborne. These microscopic fibers are easily inhaled deep into the lungs. Once there, they can cause asbestosis (a scarring of the lungs) and pulmonary fibrosis. They can also dramatically increase the risk for lung cancers, including a particularly virulent form called mesothelioma.

While few if any consumer products are still made with asbestos, it can be a serious problem when older products that contain it degrade or are disturbed. Products of chief concern are:

  • roofing materials
  • siding
  • vinyl floor tiles
  • fire-resistant gloves
  • fireproofing materials
  • soundproofing materials
  • texturized paints
  • clothes dryers
  • hair dryers
  • ironing boards

In addition, some products can be contaminated by asbestos because they are obtained from mineral deposits that also contain it. Of chief concern are talc, from which talcum powder is made, and vermiculite, which is found in potting soils and similar products. These products should be avoided and substituted with safer versions. Cornstarch, for example, is a good substitute for talcum powder.

If you suspect a product contains asbestos but aren’t certain, treat it as if it does. Materials in good condition should be left undisturbed. If a renovation or repair is planned, sampling and testing of suspected asbestos-containing building materials is advisable.

If you see signs of asbestos deterioration, such as gray dust near degraded insulation, tiles, texturized paint or other home building materials or consumer products, contact an asbestos professional to have samples collected and tested. Never attempt to test for, handle, or remediate asbestos yourself. Do not sweep, dust, or vacuum where asbestos fibers may be present. Always refer all suspected asbestos problems to a licensed expert. And certainly don’t let children play near suspect materials.

+ Sources

Health Canal avoids using tertiary references. We have strict sourcing guidelines and rely on peer-reviewed studies, academic researches from medical associations and institutions. To ensure the accuracy of articles in Health Canal, you can read more about the editorial process here