April 1-7 is National Asbestos Awareness week to “raise public awareness about the prevalence of asbestos-related diseases and the dangers of asbestos exposure,” per Senate Resolution 125. But what is asbestos and what should you do if you suspect your building contains this extremely harmful material?
Asbestos is a naturally occurring fibrous mineral which has been utilized in building materials for thousands of years. Common building materials containing asbestos are vinyl flooring, mastics, thermals system insulation, caulks, and spackling compound. Historically, there have been over 3,000 known uses of asbestos within building materials.
Exposure to asbestos fibers is often the result of deteriorating building materials or uncontrolled disturbances of asbestos-containing materials. Over 10,000 people die within the United States annually as a result of asbestos related diseases. Diagnosis of these diseases is often not identifiable until years after exposure to harmful fibers has occurred. Suspect asbestos-containing materials should be treated as if they contain asbestos until sampling and laboratory analysis by a certified New York State Department of Labor Asbestos Building Inspector proves otherwise.
When asbestos-containing materials are identified within a building, they should not be disturbed. Materials that are in good condition do not pose a significant risk of releasing asbestos fibers as long as they are not disturbed. When the time comes to repair or remove asbestos containing materials, utilize certified professionals to conduct the work. Engineering controls (such as negative air enclosures) are utilized to protect workers and ensure the work area is free of asbestos fibers at the conclusion of the abatement project.