Asbestos is the name for a group of minerals that occur naturally in the ground. Asbestos fibers have special characteristics. Heat or chemicals do not affect them, and they do not conduct electricity. Asbestos is also very strong. Pound for pound, asbestos is stronger than steel. Asbestos fibers are also very flexible, allowing them to be woven into cloth-like materials. This versatility is why industry has mined and widely used asbestos to make many different products.
In general, the risk of developing an asbestos-related disease increases with greater exposure to asbestos. Exposure to asbestos occurs through inhalation of airborne microscopic asbestos fibers. These fibers are so small that they can remain airborne for days after they are initially disturbed. While airborne, individuals can breathe in these fibers. Since the fibers are so small, they can travel deep into a person’s lungs, where they may eventually lodge in the lung tissue. Once lodged in the lung tissue, these fibers can cause several serious diseases, including lung cancer, asbestosis (a scarring of the lung tissue) and mesothelioma (cancer of the lining of the lung cavity).
Airborne asbestos can be present during renovation and demolition of buildings and building products. Residential and nonresidential buildings can contain asbestos materials. Untrained individuals performing asbestos-related work can expose themselves as well as other individuals in the building or their own families simply by having their clothing or skin contaminated with asbestos fibers.
There are over 3,000 building products and other items that contain asbestos. For a complete listing of some of the commercially available products that may contain asbestos, refer to the Minnesota Department of Health website.
The United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has only banned the use of the following asbestos products in new construction and renovation:
- Spray-applied surfacing asbestos-containing material.
- Sprayed-on application of materials containing more than 1% asbestos to buildings, structures, pipes, and conduits unless the material is encapsulated with a bituminous or resinous binder during spraying and the materials are not friable after drying.
- Wet-applied and pre-formed asbestos pipe insulation, and pre-formed asbestos block insulation on boilers and hot water tanks.
- Corrugated paper, roll board, commercial paper, specialty paper, flooring felt, and new uses of asbestos.
What Can You Do?
- Read the labeling on any product you buy or contact the manufacturer.
- Have a Minnesota certified asbestos inspector sample the material and have it analyzed for asbestos.
- Remove the asbestos. MDH regulates the removal (abatement), encapsulation or enclosure of friable asbestos-containing material in amounts greater than 10 linear feet, 6 square feet or 1 cubic foot in a residence. MDH does not regulate the removal of asbestos-containing flooring, ceilings, siding or roofing materials in a single family residence or in a multifamily residence with four units or less.
- Keep asbestos-containing materials in good condition. Just having asbestos-containing materials in your home is not a health risk if the materials are in good condition. Damaged asbestos-containing materials can become a health risk if no actions are taken. Refer to the Homeowner Information page on the MN Department of Health website for more information.
Minnesota Department of Health
St. Paul, MN
651-201-4620 (Asbestos Program)
This website also provides a list of Minnesota licensed asbestos contractors and consultants