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Asbestos is a natural mineral. It is made up of fibers, is very durable, and is extremely heat-resistant.

People who breathe in asbestos fibers over many years are at risk for several serious diseases. These diseases include lung cancer, digestive tract cancer, mesothelioma (a cancer in the lining of the lungs or stomach) and asbestosis (lung scarring).

You are at risk for asbestos-related diseases if:

  • You are exposed to asbestos over many years.
  • You work as a construction, insulation or shipyard worker and have installed, disturbed or removed asbestos without proper protection.

Also, smokers who are exposed to asbestos have a much higher risk for disease than non-smokers who are exposed.

Asbestos exposure does not usually cause immediate health conditions, such as difficulty in breathing or skin problems. You are unlikely to have an asbestos-related disease if you were exposed for just a short time, even at high levels.

Exposure to Asbestos

People are exposed to asbestos when they breathe in asbestos fibers. Asbestos can be released into the air when asbestos-containing materials are damaged or disturbed. Undamaged asbestos-containing materials do not pose a health risk.

There are no routine medical tests for asbestos exposure. Chest X-rays and lung function tests can show lung damage once it has formed. Asbestos-related diseases may not develop until 30 to 40 years after exposure.

Finding Asbestos

You can find asbestos in many building materials. Although the use of asbestos has greatly decreased since the 1970s, it is still present in many older products and materials.

Common materials that may have asbestos include:

  • Fireproofing products
  • Insulation
  • Roofing materials
  • Ceiling and floor tiles
  • Cement products
  • Automobile brakes and clutches
  • Heat- and corrosion-resistant products

Licensed environmental inspectors can test materials and the air for asbestos. Testing the air or materials for asbestos may be useful in identifying potential exposures and evaluating the effectiveness of proper asbestos removal and cleanup.

If you have asbestos insulation on pipes, boilers or furnaces in your home, it is important to make sure these materials remain undamaged. If you're not sure if the insulation contains asbestos, hire a trained inspector to test the material.

Public Building Requirements

Building owners must follow federal rules on the proper care of asbestos materials.

Schools are required to identify and safely handle asbestos materials. The US Occupational Safety and Health Administration requires private employers to protect workers from asbestos exposure. In New York State, the Public Employee Safety and Health Bureau requires the same protection for city, county and state workers.

To report a problem with asbestos, call 311 or submit a complaint online.

Additional Resources

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