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Did You Know… Asbestos

Updated on October 24, 2019
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MKM Environmental is a New York based company offering services related to asbestos, water, lead and radon testing.

Where Did Asbestos Come From?

Did you know that asbestos is not a new thing, but has been used for thousands of years to strengthen other materials? Asbestos is strong and cannot burn, so it was used in the 1850’s as part of helmets and clothing for firefighters. It was used heavily in early theaters when fire was a primary source of illumination. Workers found that they could make theater curtains with tiny asbestos fibers and create a firewall between the stage and the viewers.

How Was Asbestos Used without Harming Anyone?

This question is not a simple one to answer since there are two parts to the answer. One has to do with when asbestos can be used with less danger to those exposed. The other part has to do with the length of time it can take for the effects of asbestos to be noticed. We’ll break those down next.

Asbestos in Low-Risk Situations

Asbestos in its original form as minerals is not particularly harmful and when combined into asbestos, the fibers have to get inside the human body to cause harm. Even asbestos testing won’t always mean that the problem has to be dealt with instantly. This is because asbestos fibers are very tiny and they continue to splinter, so when they are ingested or, more commonly, inhaled, the fibers become embedded and begin to cause harm. Eventually, they can cause a variety of respiratory illnesses or even forms of cancer. Those who used asbestos in buildings in the 19th century may have rarely disturbed the materials to the point that they would have been inhaled.

Asbestos Presence Over Time

The second thing to know is that asbestos generally does not cause obvious symptoms immediately after exposure. Workers who make materials out of asbestos or install it may be the first to be exposed, and they may take years to show any symptoms. This could have led to a false sense of security for those using it in the early days. Asbestos inspections today will tell us whether or not there are signs of asbestos and asbestos testing will prove it conclusively. At that point, it is up to building owners to consider how long it has been there, whether it has been disturbed, and when it will need to be disturbed for something major like a renovation. Once it is broken up and can get into the air, it becomes extremely dangerous.

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What does an Asbestos Inspector do?

When an asbestos testing is done, the inspector is looking for any sign of asbestos and it’s a more difficult job than you might think. Asbestos is really not one material but is a term for a group of minerals. The fibers in asbestos are microscopic, which is part of what makes it such a dangerous substance when present in a living or working environment. Since it is a mineral, it is also remarkably fire resistant and the fine fibers seem to make an excellent layer of insulating protection that is also essentially fireproof.

The problem with asbestos

The problem is that the tiny fibers splinter like the smallest threads of glass one can imagine. It doesn’t degrade or decay like many things we eat or inhale, so when you breathe in asbestos fibers they splinter off and become embedded inside you. This doesn’t typically cause any immediate symptoms since it’s just a small amount of inhaled material.

Who is an asbestos inspector?

Asbestos inspection and testing is done by professionals who have been trained to find hazardous materials. An asbestos inspector will take samples of materials in a home or business and they are turned over to asbestos testers to determine what is in them. Air samples will also be taken as part of the process and the inspector will use a method to take air samples that is least likely to disturb the air and endanger anyone. The inspector will look for friable and non-friable asbestos that could get into the air when disturbed.

If asbestos is found the investigators will let the business owner know what recommendations they have. If the asbestos cannot be safely removed even with all precautions, there are options to have an area sealed. If it can be removed, recommendations can be made for professionals who will safely deconstruct the area and remove the hazardous materials. It is critical to use licensed asbestos testing professionals for any work related to the testing and handling of asbestos.

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