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Bureau of Epidemiology

Environmental Epidemiology Program


What is Asbestos?
Asbestos is a generic name given to a group of minerals that occur naturally and have been mined for its useful properties such as thermal insulation, chemical and thermal stability, and high tensile strength.  Because of these attributes, asbestos has been widely used in many construction and industrial products, including insulation and fireproofing materials, automotive brakes and textile products, and cement and wallboard materials. 
Why is Asbestos a Hazard?
Asbestos is made up of microscopic fibers that may become airborne when disturbed.  These fibers get into the air and may become inhaled into the lungs, where they may cause significant health problems.  Some of these health problems include asbestosis, mesothelioma, and lung cancer.  The latency period for these health problems can be 15-40 years. 
How Are You Exposed to Asbestos?
Most people are exposed to small amounts of asbestos in our daily lives, yet we do not develop these health problems.  Asbestos related disease is related to greater exposures and longer exposures. 
Asbestos is not always an immediate hazard.  It becomes a hazard when it becomes damaged or is disturbed and can release fibers into the air.  Asbestos fibers are small and light and can be suspended in air for long periods.  People who live or work near the disturbed asbestos conataining materials may inhale the asbestos fibers into their lungs.  Intact, undisturbed asbestos containing materials generally do not pose a health risk. 
Do I Have Asbestos in My Home?
If you think you may have asbestos in your home, leave the material alone.  You cannot tell whether a material contains asbestos simply by looking at it, unless it is labeled.  The material must be sampled and analyzed by a qualified professional in order to determine whether it is asbestos containing material.  Taking samples yourself is not recommended, because if it is done incorrectly, sampling can be more hazardous than leaving the material alone.  Before you remodel your house, find out whether asbestos materials are present. 
Asbestos professionals are trained in handling asbestos materials.  They can conduct home inspections, take samples of suspected material, assess its condition, and advise about what corrections are needed and who is qualified to make these corrections. 
Additional Information Can Be Found at the Following: