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What is Asbestos?

Asbestos is a generic term for six different naturally occurring mineral formations which have the common characteristic of their crystalline structure being able to be separated into long, thin fibers. The fibers can be curved (serpentine asbestos, or chrysotile) or straight, "needle-like" fibers (the amphiboles). Chrysotile is the most common type of asbestos in the United States and has been mined in various locations in the United States. Asbestos fibers are present in the air throughout the United States. This is partly due to fibers broken from exposed asbestos containing rocks, but more has been released from asbestos containing products, such as vehicle brakes.

Asbestos was called the "miracle mineral" due to its many unique physical properties. Asbestos was added to many building materials because of its ability to retard fire, strengthen products, and acoustically insulate.

Asbestos use in building materials peaked in the years following World War II through the 1970’s. Asbestos may still be found in new buildings. Asbestos is currently regulated by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), the EPA, and other government agencies.

Is Asbestos Hazardous?

It is the unique physical shape of asbestos that gave it many practical applications and also makes asbestos hazardous. Asbestos is harmful if the fibers become airborne and are inhaled. Fibrous asbestos can fracture into fibers small enough that they can penetrate deep into the lungs, where they can interact with the body to cause cancer or other illnesses. Asbestos Containing Materials (ACM) that are intact and in good condition are not hazardous to building occupants under normal conditions.

How Can Asbestos Harm You?

Microscopically small asbestos fibers can be inhaled deep into the lungs and lodge there. After many years, lung cancer or mesothelioma (cancer of the mesothelium) may develop. If you inhale large quantities of asbestos over several years, you could develop asbestosis which progressively makes breathing more difficult, or develop pleural plaques which make it difficult to evaluate lung x-rays. If you swallow large amounts of asbestos, some studies show there may be an increased risk of developing cancers in different organs associated with the throat and gastro-intestinal tract.

Wasn’t Asbestos Banned Years Ago?

Only a few asbestos products are actually banned in the United States. You can still easily buy many asbestos products. The University is minimizing procurement of asbestos products as much as possible. However, we cannot guarantee that new building materials on campus are "asbestos-free." Items purchased or installed before 1980, most likely contain asbestos.

How Can I Tell If Something Contains Asbestos?

It is not possible to visually determine if a material contains asbestos. The presence of asbestos can only be determined by specific sampling and analytical procedures conducted by qualified individuals.

What is Asbestos Good For?

Due to their mineralogical properties of having high strength, being an excellent insulator for heat and electricity, being able to resist heat without damage, being fairly good at resisting corrosion, and also having the ability to be woven into fabric, asbestos has been added to many different materials commonly used in buildings and different products. It can be found in literally thousands of types of products from building fireproofing to hand-held hair dryers.

Is there Asbestos at the University?

Yes. Asbestos was used during the construction of buildings throughout the 1970’s and before. Many buildings on campus are known to have asbestos-containing building materials in good physical condition. Hundreds of asbestos removal projects have been conducted at the University in conjunction with remodeling and demolition activities. As long as ACM remains on campus, the University will monitor the condition and safe removal of asbestos.

How is the University Managing Asbestos on Campus?

The University is taking several steps to ensure a safe and healthy work and academic environment. The University maintains a historical database of asbestos samples collected. A few years ago, a survey was conducted on nearly every building on campus to determine what building materials in those buildings contain asbestos. Only licensed asbestos abatement contractors are authorized to perform asbestos abatement at the University. All areas are evaluated prior to any remodeling or construction activities that may disrupt existing building materials.

Also, University maintenance staff receive asbestos awareness training to be knowledgeable in proper practices to use when working around asbestos-containing materials.

What Should I Do about Asbestos on Campus?