What does asbestos look like?

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Asbestos can take on many different appearances, depending on the products it is found in. In acoustical and decorative finishes, asbestos fibers may appear in textured compounds like the once-popular “popcorn ceiling.” The asbestos-laden insulation, Zonolite, has a puffy, granulated appearance. Asbestos floor tiles were fixed to the floor with a black adhesive before the early 1980s and are 9 by 9 or 12 by 12 inches long. However, the vast majority of asbestos-containing materials are not so easy to identify.

Difficulties in Identifying Asbestos-Containing Materials

Unfortunately, for the average home or business owner, identifying asbestos is nearly impossible. Even differentiating asbestos-containing materials from those without the carcinogenic substance is difficult. This is made more challenging due to the fact that the Environmental Protection Agency defines asbestos-containing materials as those possessing anything more than one percent of the fiber. However, the risk of misidentifying asbestos materials is dire. Mishandled materials which unknowingly contained asbestos may be made more dangerous by disturbing the friable particles, allowing them to enter the air as a lethal dust which can be easily inhaled or ingested.

Guidelines to Identifying and Addressing Asbestos

The Environmental Protection Agency explains that asbestos can only be positively identified with the use of a special type of microscope. There are several different types of the material, all with slightly different appearances. However, the main division in the asbestos types is serpentine asbestos and amphibole. Serpentine asbestos refers to the kind that has a layered form and curly fibers and includes only the chrysotile variety. The amphibole group, which is the division the other five types of asbestos fall into, is made up of minerals that possess a chain-like structure.

When found in nature, asbestos is often identified by its predominant coloration. Chrysotile asbestos is also known as white asbestos, due to its light coloration. Amosite asbestos is commonly called brown asbestos, thanks to its dark appearance. Finally, crocidolite refers to blue asbestos. Despite their color differences, all types of this silicate material have long, thin crystals which both makes them useful for a variety of industrial purposes, as well as deadly.

The Environmental Protection Agency instructs individuals who believe they have identified asbestos materials to leave the materials alone and to immediately isolate the area. Next, it is recommended individuals receive consultation from an asbestos professional. The EPA goes on to explain that it is best to receive this assessment from one company and have the actual abatement done by another firm. This will help avoid any potential conflict of interests.


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