What is Asbestos?
Asbestos is the name applied to a group of naturally occurring minerals that are mined from the earth. Generally, there are six types of regulated asbestos and chrysotile is the most common. In many instances a single product will have a mixture of different asbestos types. All types of asbestos can break into very tiny fibers. These individual fibers can be broken down so small that they can only be identified using an electron microscope. Some individual fibers may be up to 700 times smaller than the diameter of a human hair.
Because asbestos fibers are so small, once released into the air, they may stay suspended there for hours or even days. Asbestos fibers are also virtually indestructible. They are resistant to chemicals and heat, and they are very stable in the environment. They do not evaporate into air or dissolve in water, and they are not broken down over time. These physical properties make them potentially hazardous to human health.
Asbestos has many useful properties as it has been used in over 3,000 different products. It is not banned in the U.S. but highly regulated. Usually asbestos is mixed with other materials to form a product. Floor tiles, for example, may contain only a small percentage of asbestos. Depending on what the product is, the amount of asbestos in asbestos containing materials (ACM) may vary from less than 1% to 100%.
Where is Asbestos Found?
Asbestos may be found in many different products and many different places. Examples of products that might contain asbestos are:
- Sprayed on fire proofing and insulation in buildings
- Insulation for pipes and boilers
- Wall and ceiling insulation
- Ceiling and floor tiles
- Wall and ceiling texture in older buildings and homes Joint compound in older buildings and homes
- Brake linings and clutch pads
When is Asbestos Dangerous?
The most common way for asbestos fibers to enter the body is through breathing. In fact, ACM is not generally considered to be harmful unless it is releasing dust or fibers into the air where they can be inhaled or ingested. Many of the fibers will become trapped in the mucous membranes of the nose and throat where they can then be removed, but some may pass deep into the lungs, or, if swallowed, into the digestive tract.
Asbestos-containing ceiling tiles, floor tiles, undamaged laboratory cabinet tops, shingles, fire doors, siding shingles, etc. will not release asbestos fibers unless they are disturbed or damaged in some way. If an asbestos ceiling tile is drilled or broken, for example, it may release fibers into the air. If it is left alone and not disturbed, it generally will not. Asbestos pipe and boiler insulation does not present a hazard unless the protective canvas covering is cut or damaged in such a way that the asbestos underneath is actually exposed to the air.
How to Avoid Asbestos Exposure
UW-Stevens Point has several certified state inspectors on staff and utilizes contract vendors for removal of materials on campus property.
Asbestos may be found in many different products and places that can be disturbed during removal or abatement and those areas should be well placarded and avoided by occupants, but asbestos is not a risk associated with general daily use of building environments. During any removal or remediation, building occupants are notified in advance and placard notifications are posted.
All locations are known and catalogued through a state database known as WALMS (Wisconsin Asbestos and Lead Management System). If you see materials you suspect are asbestos-containing, contact EHS at x2320. For further information see UW-Stevens Point Asbestos Plan.
What is Lead?
Lead like Asbestos is also a naturally occuring metal element and one that for centuries has been commonly used in metallurgy, chemistry, construction, and household products. Lead is hazardous to human health through respiration or ingestion and enters the bloodstream directly if exposure occurs.
Is Lead on campus?
The University campus has many buildings that date back over 100 years in which lead paint and other mateirals were historically used through the decades. Many of the locations of lead have been remediated and replaced with more modern materials and are not in a respirable form.
Most lead locations that remain become known through testing and are catalogued in WALMS. Suspect building surfaces are always pre-tested before any repair or construction takes place that may disturb the material.
How to avoid Exposure to Lead
Sanding and scraping of surfaces can disturb lead. The UW-Stevens Point campus contracts with outside experts in lead removal whenever a surface that has tested positive for lead is to be removed or resurfaced. Building occupants are notified in advance of this process and placard notifications are posted. Employees should avoid these areas.
For further information about Lead, contact EHS at x2320.