What started as a single day’s observance in 2005 to highlight the health risks of exposure to asbestos and to prevent asbestos-related disease has grown into National Asbestos Awareness Week – which is the first week of April each year. In its resolution declaring the observance in 2015, the United States Senate has urged the surgeon general to warn and educate people about the public health issue of asbestos exposure. And with good reason: Exposure to asbestos fibers can cause several types of lung disease, including mesothelioma, asbestosis, and cancer – conditions that may not develop until years after someone is exposed. According to The Mesothelioma Center, an estimated 2500 to 3000 people in the United States die each year from some form of cancer caused by asbestos.

While the naturally occurring mineral fiber has long been valued for its durability and flame resistance, it wasn't until the industrial revolution that these properties received widespread application. At about the same time, asbestos became associated with a number of respiratory problems. Today, it is well-documented as a cause of a number of respiratory ailments and as a carcinogen.

Exposure to asbestos is a concern for those who work construction and demolition, but it is also poses a year-round health risk for those who work or live in buildings that contain the material. Although the use of asbestos is now banned in some products by regulations such as the Toxic Substances Control Act, the Clean Air Act, and the Consumer Product Safety Act, many older commercial and residential buildings still harbor asbestos-containing materials. And because asbestos fibers of certain sizes and types are not easily exhaled, even short-term exposure to greater than naturally occurring levels of the material may lead to health problems.

Building and facility owners are required by law to assess asbestos hazards before beginning any renovation, maintenance or demolition work. A written report must be furnished to contractors and any others who work around any project that involves asbestos. This requirement applies to both newly installed and existing materials.

Product information on labels and safety data sheets often include information on asbestos content when it constitutes more than one percent of a material. However, the absence of asbestos information on a label does not always mean that asbestos is not present. So when handling products that may contain asbestos, it should be assumed that it is present unless the manufacturer or a testing laboratory has certified the material to be asbestos free. When in doubt, a thorough building survey with bulk material sampling and analysis by accredited personnel is the only way to prove that a presumed asbestos containing material (PACM) does not contain asbestos.

An accurate asbestos inventory is the foundation for managing a successful operations and maintenance (O&M) program. Site-specific asbestos abatement policies, periodic inspections and exposure monitoring are robust ways for building owners to control asbestos exposure risks to building occupants, contractors and visitors. Workplace Safety & Health Co., Inc. has the expertise and the experience to partner with you to control the risk of asbestos exposure. Contact us for more information.