Common Asbestos Locations in the Office
Asbestos is the name of fibrous minerals that have high tensile strength and are able to be woven. The material is also resistant to heat and most chemicals. Because of the properties, asbestos fibers have been utilized in a number of manufactured goods, including roofing shingles, floor and ceiling tiles and cement products. Asbestos can also be found in many textiles, coatings and select automobile parts. Exposure to asbestos can increase the risk of developing lung disease and other serious diseases such as the aggressive cancer mesothelioma; the risk is often exacerbated by smoking. In reality, the greater the exposure to asbestos, the greater the chance of experiencing the harmful health effects caused by the mineral.
Asbestos in Construction Materials
Before it was widespread knowledge of the harmful effects of asbestos, construction materials containing asbestos were often used for office buildings and schools. Asbestos materials that remain undisturbed generally do not pose a health risk and it is believed that asbestos only becomes hazardous if it is damaged or disturbed. The use of asbestos in the construction of new buildings and schools is not as common as it used to be. Although many are aware of the dangers of asbestos, the United States has not banned the use of the material in construction products. Older buildings constructed some time ago, are likely to have been built with materials that had asbestos because products that contained asbestos were sufficient for thermal insulation and fire protection.
Who is at Risk?
The EPA requirements include regular monitoring of the levels of asbestos and remove all damaged asbestos containing products. Similar to schools, office buildings that were constructed before the mid-1980s are likely to contain asbestos materials. Asbestos has been found in the acoustical plasters and finishers in the ceiling and walls; thermal insulation asbestos materials may also be present in the walls, furnaces and around pipes. As a general rule, asbestos containing products do not release a large number of fibers. In fact, most office workers have had no exposure to a hazardous level of asbestos. However, janitors and other maintenance staff are more likely to be exposed.
In many case, the risk of asbestos exposure can be minimized by patching or repairing the asbestos materials. All custodial and maintenance workers should be informed of the presence of asbestos and be encouraged to use safety precautions when working in an asbestos contained area. The owners of buildings that contain asbestos should seek the help of an expert before attempting to take any action to control asbestos exposure or remove an asbestos product.