Air Quality Awareness Week 2017: The Danger of Airborne Asbestos

Today we continue our focus on air quality with a look at the silent danger of airborne asbestos.

Asbestos and Air Quality

Many people know that asbestos is dangerous, but many do not understand that the vehicle through which asbestos enters the human body is almost always via the very air we breathe or ingestion. Asbestos is made of tiny, microscopic fibers. When the fibers become airborne, often within contaminated dust, people may unknowingly breathe it into their lungs, where the mineral can wreak havoc on human health.

Asbestos is hazardous to human health any time it is disturbed in any manner. It can be released in dust when a product deteriorates or is crushed, broken, cut or otherwise disturbed.


The most common asbestos-related diseases are mesothelioma, lung cancer, other cancers, and asbestosis.

It can take decades for these diseases to manifest. The victim may have no idea that he or she ever breathed in asbestos, but often the sources can be identified. For example, the person may have worked in a job with higher risk of exposure like military service; teaching and other school employment; ship construction, repair and destruction; building maintenance, repair, construction and demolition; motor vehicle repair; mining; work in power plants; and others.

Asbestos properties

Asbestos is a naturally occurring mineral that is heat resistant. Mainly because of its insulating and heat-blocking properties, it was used historically (and sometimes still is) used in consumer products, building materials and industrial equipment.

Examples of products that may contain asbestos:

  • Insulation: attic, wall, pipe, block, boiler, engine, valve, electrical wire
  • Vehicle brakes and clutches
  • Tiles: ceiling, floor, wall
  • Hairdryers
  • Gaskets
  • Appliances
  • Cement
  • Industrial equipment
  • Fireproofing
  • Compounds like glue, patching compound, plaster, joint compound, popcorn-ceiling material, stucco
  • Clothing like protective gloves, ironing board covers, heat-resistant blankets

Asbestos mining may release fibers. Also, talc and vermiculite are typically contaminated with asbestos, so mining those minerals and using them in products can also be dangerous.

Asbestos is a potentially lethal air contaminant and anyone with an asbestos disease should discuss it with a lawyer.