[Because Asbestos Abatement is such a specialized field, Florida Indoor Air Quality does not do testing for it. We provide the following information for your personal knowledge.]
What Are Asbestos Fibers?
Asbestos is a set of six naturally occurring silicate minerals exploited commercially for their desirable physical properties. They all have in common their asbestiform habit, long, (1:20) thin fibrous crystals. The inhalation of asbestos fibers can cause serious illnesses, including malignant lung cancer, mesothelioma (a formerly rare cancer strongly associated with exposure to amphibole asbestos), and asbestosis (a type of pneumoconiosis). Long term exposure to asbestos is more likely to cause health problems, as asbestos exists in the ambient air at low levels, which itself does not cause health problems. The European Union has banned all use of asbestos and extraction, manufacture and processing of asbestos products.
Asbestos became increasingly popular among manufacturers and builders in the late 19th century because of its sound absorption, average tensile strength, and its resistance to heat, electrical and chemical damage. When asbestos is used for its resistance to fire or heat, the fibers are often mixed with cement or woven into fabric or mats.
Asbestos was used in some products for its heat resistance, and in the past was used on electric oven and hotplate wiring for its electrical insulation at elevated temperature, and in buildings for its flame-retardant and insulating properties, tensile strength, flexibility, and resistance to chemicals.
Asbestos was named by the ancient Greeks. They had already recognized certain hazards of the material. The Greek geographer Strabo and the Roman naturalist Pliny the Elder noted that the material damaged lungs of slaves who wove it into cloth. Charlemagne, the first Holy Roman Emperor, is said to have had a tablecloth made of asbestos. Wealthy Persians, who bought asbestos imported over the Hindu Kush, amazed guests by cleaning the cloth by simply exposing it to fire. Some of the Persians believed the fiber was fur from an animal that lived in fire and died when exposed to water. While traveling to China, Marco Polo described observing miraculous garments that were cleaned by being placed in fires. These garments were likely made from asbestos.
Some archeologists believe that ancients made shrouds of asbestos, wherein they burned the bodies of their kings, in order to preserve only their ashes, and prevent their being mixed with those of wood or other combustible materials commonly used in funeral pyres.Others assert that the ancients used asbestos to make perpetual wicks for sepulchral or other lamps. In more recent centuries, asbestos was indeed used for this purpose. Although asbestos causes skin to itch upon contact, ancient literature indicates that it was prescribed for diseases of the skin, and particularly for the itch. It is possible that they used the term asbestos for soapstone, because the two terms have often been confused throughout history.
Asbestos became more widespread during the industrial revolution; in the 1866 it was used as insulation in the U.S. and Canada. Development of the first commercial asbestos mine began in 1874 in the Appalachian foothills of Quebec. By the mid 20th century uses included fire retardant coatings, concrete, bricks, pipes and fireplace cement, heat, fire, and acid resistant gaskets, pipe insulation, ceiling insulation, fireproof drywall, flooring, roofing, lawn furniture, and drywall joint compound.
Thousands of tons of asbestos were used in World War II ships to wrap the pipes, line the boilers, and cover engine and turbine parts. Asbestos fibers were once used in automobile brake pads, shoes, and clutch discs. Kent, the first filtered cigarette on the market, used crocidolite asbestos in its “Micronite” filter from 1952 to 1956.
In Japan, particularly after World War II, asbestos was used in the manufacture of ammonium sulfate for purposes of rice production, sprayed upon the ceilings, iron skeletons, and walls of railroad cars and buildings (during the 1960s), and used for energy efficiency reasons as well. Production of asbestos in Japan peaked in 1974 and went through ups and downs until about 1990, when production began to drop severely.
Health Problems of Asbestos
Asbestos exposure becomes a health concern when high concentrations of asbestos fibers are inhaled over a long time period. People who become ill from inhaling asbestos are often those who are exposed on a day-to-day basis in a job where they worked directly with the material. As a person’s exposure to fibers increases, because of being exposed to higher concentrations of fibers and/or by being exposed for a longer time, then that person’s risk of disease also increases. Disease is very unlikely to result from a single, high-level exposure, or from a short period of exposure to lower levels.
The first documented death related to asbestos was in 1906. In the early 1900s researchers began to notice a large number of early deaths and lung problems in asbestos mining towns. The first diagnosis of asbestosis was made in the UK in 1924. By the 1930s, the UK regulated ventilation and made asbestosis an excusable work related disease, about ten years sooner than the U.S. The term mesothelioma was first used in medical literature in 1931; its association with asbestos was first noted sometime in the 1940s.
The United States government and asbestos industry have been criticized for not acting quickly enough to inform the public of dangers, and to reduce public exposure. In the late 1970s court documents proved that asbestos industry officials knew of asbestos dangers since the 1930s and had concealed them from the public.
In the European Union and Australia it has recently been banned as a potential health hazard and is not used at all. Japan is moving in the same direction, but more slowly. Revelations that hundreds of workers had died in Japan over the previous few decades from diseases related to asbestos sparked a scandal in mid-2005. Tokyo had, in 1971, ordered companies handling asbestos to install ventilators and check health on a regular basis; however, the Japanese government did not ban crocidolite and amosite until 1995, and a full-fledged ban on asbestos was implemented in October 2004.
Other Health Related Diseases:
- Asbestos warts: caused when the sharp fibers lodge in the skin and are overgrown causing benign callus-like growths.
- Pleural plaques: discrete fibrous or partially calcified thickened area which can be seen on X-rays of individuals exposed to asbestos. Although pleural plaques are themselves asymptomatic, in some patients this develops into pleural thickening.
- Diffuse pleural thickening: similar to above and can sometimes be associated with asbestosis. Usually no symptoms shown but if exposure is extensive, it can cause lung impairment.
Ozone is produced by ultraviolet light from the Sun hitting the Earth’s atmosphere, lightning, certain electric devices (i.e. air ionisers), and as a byproduct of other types of pollution. Ozone exists in greater concentrations at altitudes commonly flown by passenger jets. Ozone itself is also irritating to lung tissue and harmful to human health. Larger jets have ozone filters to reduce the cabin concentration to safer levels. Outdoor air used for ventilation may have sufficient ozone to react with common indoor pollutants as well as skin oils and other common indoor air chemicals or surfaces. Particular concern is warranted when using “green” cleaning products based on citrus or terpene extracts as these chemicals react very quickly with ozone to form toxic and irritating chemicals as well as fine and ultrafine particles.
Carbon dioxide (CO2) at levels that are unusually high indoors may cause occupants to grow drowsy, get headaches, or function at lower activity levels. Humans are the main indoor source of carbon dioxide. To eliminate most Indoor Air Quality complaints, total indoor carbon dioxide should be reduced a difference of less than 600 ppm above outdoor levels. Indoor air concentrations of carbon dioxide that exceed 1,000 ppm are considered a marker suggesting inadequate ventilation. It is recommended that carbon dioxide levels not exceed 700 ppm above outdoor ambient levels. OSHA limits carbon dioxide concentration in the workplace to 5,000 ppm for prolonged periods, and 35,000 ppm for 15 minutes. A common cause of excess CO2 are leaks in metal exhaust pipes.
The U.S. Federal Government (www.osha.gov)and some States have set standards for acceptable levels of asbestos fibers in indoor air. Many common building materials used before 1975 contain asbestos, such as some floor tiles, ceiling tiles, taping muds, pipe wrap, mastics and other insulation materials. Normally significant releases of asbestos fiber do not occur unless the building materials are disturbed, such as by cutting, sanding, drilling or building remodeling. Inhalation of asbestos fibers over long exposure times is associated with increased incidence of lung cancer. When asbestos-containing material is damaged or disintegrates, microscopic fibers are dispersed into the air. The symptoms of the disease do not usually appear until about 20 to 30 years after the first exposure to asbestos.
Legionnaire’s Disease is caused by a waterborne bacterium Legionella that grows best in slow-moving or still, warm water. The primary route of exposure is aerosolization, most commonly from evaporative cooling towers or showerheads. A common cause in commercial buildings is due to poorly placed or maintained evaporative cooling towers, which often release aerosolized water that may enter nearby ventilation intakes. Outbreaks in medical facilities and nursing homes, where patients are immuno-suppressed and immuno-weak, are the most commonly reported cases of Legionellosis. More than one case has involved outdoor fountains in public attractions. The presence of Legionella in commercial building water supplies is highly under-reported, as healthy people require heavy exposure to acquire infection.
Volatile organic compounds (VOCs) are emitted as gases from certain solids or liquids. VOCs include a variety of chemicals, some of which may have short- and long-term adverse health effects. Concentrations of many VOCs are consistently higher indoors (up to ten times higher) than outdoors. VOCs are emitted by a wide array of products numbering in the thousands. Examples include: paints and lacquers, paint strippers, cleaning supplies, pesticides, building materials and furnishings, office equipment such as copiers and printers, correction fluids and carbonless copy paper, graphics and craft materials including glues and adhesives, permanent markers, and photographic solutions. All of these products can release organic compounds during usage, and, to some degree, when they are stored.
Carbon Monoxide is one of the most acutely toxic indoor air contaminants, which is a colorless, odorless gas that is a byproduct of incomplete combustion of fossil fuels. Common sources of carbon monoxide are tobacco smoke, space heaters using fossil fuels, defective central heating furnaces and automobile exhaust. Improvements in indoor levels of CO are systematically improving from increasing numbers of smoke-free restaurants and other legislated non-smoking buildings. By depriving the brain of oxygen, high levels of carbon monoxide can lead to nausea, unconsciousness and death. According to the American Conference of Governmental Industrial Hygienists (ACGIH), the time-weighted average (TWA) limit for carbon monoxide (630-08-0) is 25 ppm[vague].
Molds and other allergens can arise from a host of means, but there are two common classes: (a) moisture induced growth of mold colonies and (b) natural substances released into the air such as animal dander and plant pollen. Moisture buildup inside buildings may arise from water penetrating compromised areas of the building envelope or skin, from plumbing leaks, from condensation due to improper ventilation, or from ground moisture penetrating a building part. In areas where cellulosic materials (paper and wood, including drywall) become moist and fail to dry within 48 hours, mold mildew can propagate and release allergenic spores into the air. More serious than most allergenic properties is the ability of mold to trigger episodes in persons that already have asthma, a serious respiratory disease.