It’s no secret that asbestos has had its time in the spotlight during human history. Up until just recently, asbestos was frequently used for a wide variety of applications dating back to antiquity. Roughly fifty years ago, the United States began restrictions and drastically slowed the use of this harmful substance for many uses. That being said, the move to ban asbestos was ultimately a failure, and you can still find asbestos in many products today.
One of the more common examples of this is with insulation, where small amounts of asbestos are still permitted. But this is just one of many, as asbestos-containing materials are far more prevalent today than you would think. Construction materials, automotive parts, even some consumer products still contain asbestos or asbestos-containing materials — leading to health complications and serious health issues.
Why Was Asbestos Used In The First Place?
Asbestos found its way into nearly every nook and cranny during the late 1800s, a pursuit that lasted all the way up until the 1970s. While there was much work done to remove the hinder the use of this toxin from products and locations, it can still be found in many old buildings, homes, and products.
So, why was asbestos used so much? First and foremost it’s extremely cost-efficient. That’s primarily why asbestos mining blew up in the 1800s. But aside from that, it does boast some impressive and diverse feats that many other minerals simply don’t have. It’s also extremely durable, making it an obvious choice for construction materials and adhesives. But perhaps the biggest upside for asbestos is that it’s fire-resistant. Not only does this help with areas where friction or literal high-heat environments are an issue, but also chemical reactions.
So, take all of this and combine it with the fact that during its height in productivity the United States was also being built from the ground up — and you have a recipe for disaster. It’s been estimated that at its height, asbestos was being used in over 3,000 distinct products. That means harmful asbestos fibers were lingering around in thousands upon thousands of products that humans came into contact with every day.
While the United States halted its own asbestos mining operations, the rest of the world continues to mine this toxin. Although there has been a fairly significant dropoff in asbestos production around the world, some countries continue to produce astronomical numbers. Just three years ago, Russia produced 1.1 million metric tons of asbestos. Roughly 2 million tons of asbestos are consumed every year around the globe.
How does this occur? Well, as we mentioned there are a lot of products that still contain asbestos, many of which you wouldn’t expect. There was a time where many people believed that asbestos production and use was completely halted or banned. Unfortunately, that’s not the truth.
While the majority of individuals at risk are workers who constantly handle or maneuver around asbestos fibers, there is still no telling how many people are exposed every day. However, we do know where asbestos is most common today. While a lot of these products have been changed or altered over the years to comply with new regulations, older products. Here are some asbestos-containing products that workers should be especially aware of.
Where Is Asbestos Today?
There’s really no sound understanding of all the places asbestos could be today. Due to such widespread use in the past, asbestos made its way into so many facets of everyday life. That being said, certain workers are at a higher risk due to their increased exposure to older products that may contain asbestos-related materials. Below are some of the most common and high-risk areas where asbestos can still be found today.
Asbestos In Construction
It may come as no surprise that construction was the main culprit for the asbestos industry. At one point, it was responsible for up to 80% of asbestos consumption during the 20th century according to the CDC. But, it’s the homes and buildings that were constructed between 1930-1970 that have the highest likelihood of containing asbestos-related materials.
If you work in old buildings or homes, the following materials may contain asbestos:
- Cement pipe
- Ceiling tiles
- Joint compound
- Roofing shingles
- Vinyl floor tiles
As the world became more and more aware of the harmful effects of asbestos-related materials, companies made efforts to calm the storm. They began a campaign that labeled their asbestos materials as “encapsulated asbestos.” The problem is that this protective asbestos strategy fails whenever damage or weathering occurs — where harmful fibers are consequently released.
Asbestos In Automotive Parts
Asbestos found its way into the automotive industry in droves back in the day. It was a perfect material, suited for such high temperature and high friction environments. Even now, brakes can still have very small amounts of asbestos (1%).
If you work with cars or other areas of the transportation industry, the following materials may contain asbestos:
- Brakes (linings, shoes & pads)
- Clutch facings and linings
- Disc brakes
- Drum brakes
- Transmission plates
While workers are certainly at risk in the automotive field, even hobbyists that enjoy working on cars should be especially careful. This is especially true for mechanics that work a lot with brakes.
Asbestos In Consumer Products
While harmful asbestos exposure may be more common for those that work in more hazardous areas, consumers are also at risk. In the same vein as construction materials, consumer goods that were produced between 1930 and 1970 have the potential to house asbestos fibers. Older products that have aged since their prime are a cause for concern.
Some older products that may contain asbestos are:
- Fire blanks
- Ironing board covers
- Oven mitts
- Potting soil
- Talcum powder
Even recently, recalls have been made on many modern consumer products that have been found to contain asbestos. Many of these were due to contaminated talcum powder. While this substance is typically safe, asbestos-containing talcum powder has found its way into consumer’s hands and caused serious damage.
The biggest concern when it comes to products that contain asbestos is safety. For those who work in occupations where asbestos is a potential threat, it’s important to remain informed about the different products or materials that you could come into contact with. For those that work in older buildings where asbestos-containing materials could be disturbed, there are several levels of training that are required. Not only is it crucial for you or your company to stay compliant with EPA regulations, but it’s also about the safety of the workers. The health risks associated with asbestos are severe. Taking correct precautions and remaining informed is your best defense.