The thought of inhaling asbestos is an unsettling feeling for many who understand the potential risks. And we may ask ourselves, how long does asbestos stay in the air?
Asbestos can travel in the air for extended distances, as these very light fibers can stay airborne for as long as 72 hours or more. Even the slightest breeze may keep asbestos fibers airborne and travel distances that may surprise you.
As the American Lung Association explains, as these asbestos fibers remain airborne, they can be inhaled into your lungs, potentially causing lung damage and cancer.
- How to Test for Asbestos in the Air
- Does a HEPA Filter Remove Asbestos?
- How to Remove Asbestos from the Air
- How to Clean Up Asbestos Dust
- How Much Asbestos Exposure Is Harmful?
- Health Risks of Asbestos Exposure
- Does Asbestos Have a Smell?
- What to Do if Exposed to Asbestos
- One-Time Exposure to Asbestos
- Where Is Asbestos Found?
- Types of Asbestos Fibers
- How to Properly Remove Asbestos
How to Test for Asbestos in the Air
Air testing for asbestos may be required after an asbestos disruption or removal project. This work may be requested by an asbestos removal service, you, or your insurance provider.
The type of asbestos air test that you may need depends on your unique circumstances. For example, you may be asked the following questions when determining what asbestos test is right for you:
- Was there an asbestos project that was recently finished in your home?
- What is the suspected source of the asbestos?
- Has a part of your home made with asbestos recently been damaged or otherwise disrupted?
These are just a few of the many questions you could be asked when scheduling your asbestos test. Call an asbestos professional for more information.
Does a HEPA Filter Remove Asbestos?
HEPA filters can remove asbestos and other contaminants as small as 0.3 microns from the air by filtering them out. HEPA filters also capture pollen, dust, pet dander, mold spores, germs, viruses, and other allergens. These filters are used in households, businesses, and healthcare facilities.
Although HEPA filters may be cleaned, it’s recommended to replace them instead to avoid the contaminants that the filter has collected.
HEPA filters can be used in HVAC systems, professional-quality vacuum cleaners, and air purifiers.
How to Remove Asbestos from the Air
The best way to remove asbestos from the air in a home is by using a HEPA air purifier. Which HEPA air purifier you choose will vary based on how large of an area you need to cover. You’ll likely need more than one air purifier in your home for adequate coverage.
For example, if your air purifier is made to cover 500 square feet and your home is 1,050 feet, you’ll need two purifiers.
How to Clean Up Asbestos Dust
The United States Consumer Product Safety Commission advises to not do anything that will stir up the fibers into the air such as vacuuming, sweeping, and dusting. The recommendation is to wet mop or hire an asbestos-cleaning professional who uses a HEPA vacuum cleaner.
Asbestos professionals are trained to tackle the elimination of asbestos and are strongly recommended for asbestos cleanup.
How Much Asbestos Exposure Is Harmful?
Any amount of asbestos exposure can potentially be harmful. The more exposure, the higher your risks are of an asbestos-related disease. A one-time exposure to asbestos is not considered as dangerous as repeated asbestos exposure.
Health Risks of Asbestos Exposure
A common health risk from asbestos exposure is chronic lung disease known as asbestosis, brought on by the inhalation of asbestos fibers. After some time, shortness of breath may occur along with scarring of lung tissue. Symptoms of asbestosis are generally noticed many years after asbestos exposure.
Symptoms of Asbestosis
The symptoms of asbestos exposure vary significantly and could be any one or a combination of the following:
- Chest pain or tightness
- Dry, persistent cough
- Shortness of breath
- Fingertips and toes seem wider than normal
- Crackle or dry sounds in the lungs when taking a breath
Those diagnosed with asbestosis are at increased risk of lung cancer. Smokers speed up those cancer risks significantly.
Does Asbestos Have a Smell?
According to the American Lung Association, asbestos doesn’t have a smell. Similar to other toxic substances, asbestos has no odor or taste, and the tiny fibers are not visible to the human eye. Unlike some other toxic contaminants, asbestos doesn’t cause sore throats, itchy skin, or bother the eyes.
What to Do if Exposed to Asbestos
If you have been exposed to asbestos, WebMD recommends getting in touch with your doctor. You will want to explain the extent of your asbestos exposure to determine your risk of acquiring an asbestos-related illness. It’s not unheard of for a one-time exposure to result in serious consequences, though it’s much more unlikely.
One-Time Exposure to Asbestos
Those who experienced a one-time exposure to asbestos have nonetheless been exposed. Although the risks to those who have had repeated asbestos exposure are higher, the chances of getting lung cancer or another asbestos-related illness after a one-time exposure to asbestos can happen.
This is not intended to scare you but rather to inform you of the reality of asbestos exposure. And again, those who have had numerous exposures to asbestos do have a high likelihood of an asbestos-related disease.
Where Is Asbestos Found?
Asbestos can be found in building materials such as floors, walls, and ceilings. Just like all building structures, schools have also been known to have asbestos. Asbestos has been used to manufacture friction parts for vehicles such as transmission parts, clutches, and breaks.
Sadly, asbestos has even been found in our drinking water and air.
What Products Contain Asbestos?
Asbestos has been utilized in a number of building structure materials as a fire retardant and insulation due to the strength of its fibers and heat resistance.
Building materials that have commonly contained asbestos include:
- Cement products
- Roof shingles
- Floor tiles
- Paper products
- Textures ceilings and walls
- Areas around woodburning stoves
- Pipes for hot water and steam with asbestos-containing coatings, tape, or blankets.
Other products have been known to have asbestos, such as:
- Fire-resistant fabrics
- Clutches for automotives
- Transmission parts
The above lists are not all-inclusive and give only an example of what products contain asbestos.
Where Is Asbestos Found in the Environment?
The Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry explains that asbestos occurs naturally in our environment, particularly in underground rock. Because the rock is too deep to be easily disturbed in most places, asbestos fibers are not usually released into the air.
Some locations have a higher exposure level of asbestos fibers that release into the air, such as:
- New Jersey
When rock containing asbestos is close to the surface of the earth, human activity such as construction can disturb it. In areas where there are elevated levels of asbestos exposure, it’s not unheard of to learn of clusters of mesothelioma.
In a region of New Caledonia where roadways are coated in asbestos-containing native rock, recent ecological research discovered a higher risk for mesothelioma incidence.
Another ecological investigation in California discovered a connection between the prevalence of malignant mesothelioma and the location of geologic sources of naturally occurring asbestos.
911 Toxic Dust
The Twin Towers that fell on September 11, 2001, produced enormous dust clouds that filled the air and buried hundreds of densely populated city blocks in ash, rubble, and hazardous materials.
This toxic debris created enormous dust clouds that eventually settled onto emergency responders, local workers, students, shoppers, and residents. Hundreds of densely inhabited city blocks were blanketed in ash, debris, and hazardous materials including asbestos, silica, metals, concrete, and glass.
Visit the Interactive Museum Experience to learn more about 9/11.
Military Asbestos Exposure
The U.S. military commonly purchased asbestos products for their fireproof and insulating qualities all throughout the 20th century. From the construction of aircraft, ships, tanks, trucks, barracks, and other construction.
The manufacturers who sold asbestos products to the armed forces withheld critical, life-threatening information on the toxicity of asbestos and the possible outcome of asbestos inhalation.
Countless United States veterans have unknowingly been put at risk and have suffered major consequences such as mesothelioma, and other asbestos-related illnesses.
You may be interested in reading a very comprehensive article on Mesothelioma and Veterans, courtesy of Asbestos.com.
Asbestos Exposure at Work
Specific OSHA guidelines for shipyard employment, the construction industry, and general industries address worker exposure to asbestos dangers. OSHA requires that businesses keep track of how much asbestos their employees are exposed to and go over their training on the dangers and risks of asbestos exposure at work.
Asbestos exposure is strictly regulated by both OSHA and the EPA due to its well-known health risks.
Secondary Asbestos Exposure
Secondary asbestos exposure occurs when someone who is routinely around asbestos inadvertently transfers the asbestos fibers to someone else. Farmers, construction workers, or asbestos service professionals may unintentionally transport asbestos fibers to another person’s body or personal space.
Mesothelioma is cancer that is highly connected to asbestos exposure. WebMD states that out of 90 women with mesothelioma who were part of a study, 64% has secondary asbestos exposure. The asbestos exposure to these women was not linked to anything they had come into contact with, nor was it job-related.
Sadly, the women in this study who had no direct exposure to asbestos more than likely had secondary asbestos exposure from their husbands, such as work clothes, body contact, and other means of exposure to the asbestos fibers.
Types of Asbestos Fibers
There are six types of fibrous minerals referred to as asbestos. Five of these asbestos fibers belong to the amphibole mineral group, and the sixth asbestos fiber belongs to the serpentine mineral family.
Serpentine Mineral Group
There is only one kind of asbestos that belongs to the serpentine mineral family called chrysotile asbestos. Also referred to as white asbestos, the characteristics are its curly fibers and layered structure. Chrysotile consists of up to 95% of the asbestos used in buildings in the United States.
Known for its flexible fibers and fire-resistant abilities, chrysotile asbestos is used in such things as:
- Roofing materials
- Brake pads
- Disk pads
- Brake lining
There is an ongoing disagreement between healthcare experts and the businesses that still export chrysotile asbestos from Canada, Russia, and Italy.
Amphibole Mineral Group
The amphibole family of asbestos has five different varieties. These varieties include easily-inhalable, sharp, straight chain-like structures.
The types of asbestos that fall into the amphibole mineral category are:
- Anthophyllite asbestos
- Tremolite asbestos
- Actinolite asbestos
- Amosite asbestos
This tiny, needle-like fiber can be easily inhaled into the lungs and ranges in color from yellowish to brown. Anthophyllite is made of mostly iron and magnesium and is a rare form of asbestos found in some insulation and cement products.
Tremolite asbestos has sharp fibers that are easily inhaled, are heat-resistant, and have also been woven into fabric. Its color ranges from dark green to white and was previously used in products like insulation, roofing, plumbing items, sealants, and paint.
The mining of tremolite has ended yet is responsible for a multitude of diseases and cancers all related to exposure to asbestos.
Generally dark in color with the typical needle-like fibers easily inhaled, actinolite used to be used in items like sealants, drywall, insulation materials, paints, and cement.
Also known as blue asbestos, crocidolite is characteristically made up of sharp fibers easily inhaled. Crocidolite asbestos is thought to be the most deadly form of asbestos and was rarely used in products for its lack of heat resistance. Tiles, insulation, and cement were products made with crocidolite.
Amosite asbestos is deemed a very dangerous type of asbestos, and its sharp fibers can be easily inhaled. This brown asbestos is predominantly mined in South Africa and makes up about five percent of the asbestos materials used in buildings in the U.S.
The following materials may contain amosite asbestos:
- Insulation boards
- Electrical insulation
- Plumbing insulation
- Thermal insulation
- Fire protection
- Chemical insulation
The above information on the types of asbestos was provided courtesy of the Pen Medicine Abramson Cancer Center.
How to Properly Remove Asbestos
According to the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC), the best thing you can do if you find asbestos material in good condition is to leave it alone. If disturbed, it can become a potential health risk, becoming airborne and inhaled into the lungs.
If you suspect that you have an asbestos problem, you are strongly encouraged to call a professional who specializes in the removal of asbestos.
- Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC)
- Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA)
- United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA)
- 911 Memorial and Museum
- Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR)
- National Cancer Institute
- American Lung Association
- Pen Medicine Abramson Cancer Center
About the Author:
Trina Greenfield, the owner of SmackDown Media LLC, is passionate about providing information to those interested in the air quality in and around their homes. Trina writes content about things she’s passionate about, such as safe, in-home air, educational platforms for children and adults, as well as all things family-related.