Over 1 million workers in the U.S. are exposed to asbestos. It is dangerous when you work with it and when it breaks up and gets into the air. The asbestos industry lied and hid the dangers of asbestos for decades.
Asbestos causes many kinds of cancer, even when people are exposed to asbestos for a short time or in very small amounts. Asbestos also causes asbestosis, a terrible breathing disease, when workers have been exposed to a lot of asbestos.
Smoking is much more dangerous for workers who are exposed to asbestos.
Construction and maintenance workers are often exposed to asbestos. It's no longer used commonly, but it's found in older buildings:
- as insulation on boilers and pipes
- in fireproofing
- applied or sprayed on ceilings or walls
- floor, ceiling, and acoustic tiles
- drywall and drywall joint compounds
- cement shingles, corrugated and flat sheets, and pipe
Workers are usually exposed when they remove asbestos, demolish or renovate, or during maintenance when asbestos is damaged. You can't tell if something is asbestos just by looking at it - it has to be tested.
Removing asbestos has to be done very carefully. Materials that commonly used asbestos have to be treated as if they contain asbestos if they were installed before 1980 (unless it's been tested).
Because asbestos is so dangerous, workers must have special training and wear special protective clothing and masks. The work area has to be sealed. Workers should not take their work clothes home.
Call OSHA for information and advice if you may be working with asbestos.