Office of Environmental Health and Safety
Chemical & Biological Safety Section
All varieties of asbestos are naturally occurring minerals. Asbestos
mineral deposits are common worldwide: large amounts are still mined and
used for commercial applications in Canada and throughout much of
the European and African Continents. Natural asbestos is also common
in many regions of Virginia. Disturbance of natural asbestos deposits
in northern Virginia is often a major concern which must be considered
before beginning construction or excavation projects. Asbestos
has many characteristics which led to it's use in a wide array of commercial
The durability, insulating quality, cheapness and abundance of asbestos led to it's use in several building materials, mechanical applications and many other products. Commercial use of asbestos in the U.S. began in the late 1800's when interior mechanical heating systems came into use. The early asbestos products were primarily pipe and boiler (thermal) insulations. Use of asbestos increased throughout the first half of the century. In addition to the widespread use of asbestos for thermal insulation, the use of asbestos also became common in flooring materials, mastics and glues, building siding and roofing materials. During World War II massive amounts of asbestos were used to insulate and fireproof naval vessels and other war machines. The use of spray applied materials for fireproofing and plaster finishes was extensive throughout the 1950's until the early 1970's. The use of asbestos in most building materials was banned by the EPA in the mid 1970's. The use of asbestos in flooring materials, mastics, brake shoes and roofing materials, however, was not banned until quite recently.
Since a number of university buildings on both campuses were constructed
during the "age of asbestos" it might be suspected that asbestos-containing
materials would be common in a number of university buildings. Asbestos-containing
materials are, indeed, common in several of university buildings, an abbreviated
list of some of the more common asbestos-containing items and affected
buildings would include:
In addition to the list above, a number of less common asbestos-containing items may also be encountered within university buildings:
|II. ASBESTOS-RELATED DISEASES|
Asbestos fibers are very durable and come in a variety of shapes and
sizes. Minute asbestos fibers may remain airborne for several hours
after being disturbed. The release of asbestos fibers into occupied
environments creates the potential for asbestos exposure via fiber inhalation.
of asbestos fibers is considered to be primary route of asbestos exposure,
and may lead to the contracting of several asbestos-related diseases including:
With all asbestos-related diseases there is a latency period of from approximately 20 to 35 years between initial exposure and the appearance of disease symptoms. Medical studies have not indicated a "safe" level of asbestos exposure, thus it is important to limit exposure as much as possible. Be aware that asbestos fibers readily cling to fabric surfaces such as clothing - take care not to bring asbestos fibers home to your family! You should also be aware that smoking greatly increases the risk of contracting asbestos-related diseases.
|III. CORRECTIVE MEASURES|
VCU policy is to restrict access into areas where damaged asbestos presents
an exposure hazard. Several corrective measures may be required in
order to restore a safe working environment. Commonly employed corrective
measures may include:
The OEHS Chemical/Biological Safety Office regularly conducts inspections to determine the degree of asbestos hazard posed the staff within university buildings. If you suspect that asbestos-containing materials have been disturbed, or may be disturbed by proposed maintenance and/or renovation activities, our office should be contacted immediately at 828-4404.
|IV. PROTECTIVE MEASURES|
In accordance with federal and state regulations, personnel who access
asbestos hazard areas must take several precautions to ensure that they
are not exposed to asbestos fibers, including:
The contents of this course do not fulfill any of the above listed requirements, thus the bottom line is stay out of areas where asbestos exposure hazards are present. Never venture into any suspicious area (ceiling/wall spaces, pipe chase, mechanical room e.g.) without first consulting your supervisor as to the potential health hazards which may lurk within. Keep your eyes open, even when working in "cleared" areas. If suspicious materials are encountered back away and contact OEHS to ensure that you and other staff members are not exposed.
|V. When is Asbestos Dangerous?|
Asbestos-containing materials are only dangerous when they can release
fibers into the air. When dry and easy to crumble asbestos is said
to be "friable". When disturbed, friable asbestos readily
releases fibers into the air. Asbestos-containing materials such
as fireproofing, soft ceiling plaster and damaged pipe insulation are considered
to be highly friable, and are thus a great exposure threat. Materials
such as floor tile, flashing and transite are considered nonfriable and
must be rendered friable (through crushing, drilling, sanding, pulverizing
etc.) before they will present a significant exposure threat. Other
factors influencing the severity of asbestos exposure threat may include:
REMEMBER: Do not disturb materials which are known or suspected to contain asbestos. Disturbing asbestos-containing materials may pose a health threat to you and any other individuals who are unlucky enough to be in the area.
ALSO REMEMBER: Asbestos fibers are so minute that they can only be viewed under a high-powered microscope - what you cannot see can hurt you! Never start a new job without first checking with your supervisor or OEHS to make sure that asbestos-containing materials will not be disturbed.
: 828-4404 or 828-1279
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