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What is asbestos?

Asbestos is the name given to a number of naturally-occurring fibrous minerals that are very strong, heat-resistant and extremely durable. Because of these properties, asbestos has been used to make a wide range of construction materials such as roofing shingles, ceiling and floor tiles, insulation, adhesives, and cement siding; safety textiles; and friction products such as automobile clutch, brake and transmission parts.

What are the health effects of asbestos?

Exposure to asbestos increases your risk of developing lung disease as fibers become embedded and accumulate in lung tissue over time. There is no known safe level of exposure to asbestos, so contact with any amount of asbestos should be avoided. Disease symptoms may take several years to develop following exposure. The most common asbestos-related lung diseases are:

  • Asbestosis: Asbestosis is a serious, progressive, long-term non-cancer disease of the lungs. It is caused by inhaling asbestos fibers that irritate lung tissues and cause the tissues to scar. The scarring makes it hard for oxygen to get into the blood. Symptoms of asbestosis include shortness of breath and a dry, crackling sound in the lungs while inhaling. There is no effective treatment for asbestosis.
  • Lung Cancer: Lung cancer causes the largest number of deaths related to asbestos exposure. People who work in the mining, milling, manufacturing of asbestos, and those who use asbestos and its products are more likely to develop lung cancer than the general population. The most common symptoms of lung cancer are coughing and a change in breathing. Other symptoms include shortness of breath, persistent chest pains, hoarseness, and anemia.
  • Mesothelioma: Mesothelioma is a rare form of cancer found in the thin lining (membrane) of the lung, chest, abdomen, and heart and almost all cases are linked to exposure to asbestos. This disease may not show up until many years after asbestos exposure.

The difference between friable and nonfriable

Friable asbestos-containing material can be easily crushed by your hand. It is not sealed to prevent small pieces from escaping. In this condition, the fibers are easily released into the air and are more likely to be inhaled. Examples: sheet vinyl flooring, insulation on piping, duct and boilers, fireproofing, ceiling texture and panel products, and soundproofing.

Nonfriable asbestos-containing materials are sealed or bound together in solid form so the fibers cannot readily escape. While nonfriable asbestos is generally considered safe if maintained in good condition, it can become friable if mishandled or damaged. Examples: vinyl floor tile, AC water pipe, and cement (transite) siding or roofing.

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Oregon Department of Environmental Quality
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