How to Recognize & Identify Asbestos

how to recognize asbestos

Asbestos is a naturally occurring, but deadly, mineral that was once widely used in the United States. Many products still contain asbestos today, while asbestos products made decades ago remain in buildings, vehicles, and other structures.

Asbestos is made up of tiny fibers that when inhaled, become lodged in the body, mainly the lining of the lungs and the abdomen. Over time, individuals who have been exposed to asbestos can develop serious illnesses such as mesothelioma, an extremely aggressive form of cancer.

Not everyone is aware of what asbestos looks like. It’s important to determine if asbestos is the cause of cancer and other chronic illnesses. If it is, individuals who have developed an illness may be able to hold asbestos manufacturers and suppliers liable. For this reason, everyone should know what asbestos looks like and how to properly test for it.

What Does Asbestos Look Like?

Many people don’t realize that there are actually six different types of asbestos. It’s important to understand what each one looks like. This is the only way to know if it’s in your home or other areas you frequent regularly, and to take the proper steps if it is.

Below are the different types of asbestos, and a description of each:

  • Chrysotile – This is the most common form of asbestos. It is white and can be found in roofs, ceilings, walls, floors, and other areas of construction.
  • Amosite – This type of asbestos is brown and was used in insulating board and thermal insulation products.
  • Crocidolite – This type of asbestos is blue and has the thinnest fibers of all types of asbestos.
  • Anthophyllite – Anthophyllite can be many colors including gray, dull green, or white. This type of asbestos is much rarer than others.
  • Tremolite and actinolite – These two types of asbestos can be brown, white, green, or gray. Sometimes they are even transparent. Neither of these types of asbestos have been used commercially, but can be found in chrysolite asbestos, vermiculite, and talc.

Since the mid-1980s, every type of asbestos has been regulated by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). Today, over 50 countries have banned the use of asbestos, but the United States is not one of them.

How to Test for Asbestos

Left alone, asbestos doesn’t pose a huge risk. However, when it is disturbed, it releases fibers into the air, which are toxic. Due to this, it’s important to always test for asbestos before demolitions or renovations of any kind.

Asbestos cannot be seen with the naked eye. That means a regular person can’t really test for asbestos on their own. You must enlist the help of a professional who knows how to test for the substance. To do this though, you will first have to take a sample for testing.

When taking a sample, first ensure the air in the area is still. Close all windows and doors, vents, fans, air conditioning systems, and anything else that could cause movement in the air. Movement will cause the fibers to spread throughout the air, which could result in you or someone else inhaling them. Still air is essential when taking a sample to test for asbestos.

Next, make sure you have the proper protective gear to wear while taking a sample. This will protect you from inhaling the fibers. Wear a disposable face mask, gloves, long sleeves, long pants, and covers for your shoes. Remember that you will have to discard these items when you are finished. Do not allow anyone into the area who is not wearing the same type of protective gear.

You then must prepare the area that you plan to take the test sample from. You can do this by laying plastic tarps around the work area to catch any asbestos dust. Also mist the air and any surfaces in the work area. This will ensure that if asbestos fibers get into the air, they will quickly subside.

After the area has been prepared, it’s time to take your sample. Do not do this aggressively, as that will release fibers into the air. Instead, use a chisel or utility knife to gently loosen a sample of the material you need tested. Cut out the sample, making sure it will weigh between 5 and 100 grams when done. That’s just under one-quarter of a pound. Without touching the sample you have prepared, mist the sample, the air around it, and the air around you.

You’ll need to use pliers to remove the sample. However, you should place a wet wipe or wet napkin in the mouth of the pliers first. This will keep the fibers from flying into the air and instead, will make them stick onto the wet cloth. Gently grab the sample and place it into a resealable plastic bag, along with the napkin or cloth.

Seal the plastic bag and label it. Include where the sample was taken from and the date. Then, place it in another plastic bag and seal that second bag. Fold down the opening of the second bag and seal it with tape to ensure no fibers escape.

After you’ve collected the sample for testing, you’ll need to clean the area. Vacuum the entire space and then dispose of the vacuum bag in a plastic garbage bag. Clean the rest of the area, focusing on areas where asbestos dust could have settled. Discard the rag and anything else you used to clean the area and place it in the same garbage bag as the vacuum bag. Carefully remove the protective gear you wore while taking the sample and place it in the same garbage bag as the rest of the items you discarded.

Once the area is clean and everything that could have come in contact with asbestos fibers is discarded, check the National Voluntary Laboratory Accreditation Program’s website. This will pull up a list of asbestos testing labs that is certified by the EPA to test your sample. This is the only way to accurately test your sample to determine if it contains asbestos.

If the tests come back that your sample does contain asbestos, do not remove it yourself. Only DOS certified workers should remove asbestos, as they are aware of the regulations associated with disposing of asbestos.

What to Do If You Suspect You Have Been Exposed to Asbestos

If you think you have been exposed to asbestos in your home or on the job, it is important you speak to a Massachusetts asbestos attorney as soon as possible. Compensation may be available through trust funds, personal injury lawsuits, veterans’ benefits, and workers’ compensation benefits.

At The Law Offices of Michael P. Joyce, P.C., we will help you determine which route is appropriate for you to seek compensation, and then guide you throughout the entire process to help you recover it. Call us today so we can get started on your case.