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Asbestos Awareness

      For a long time, asbestos was revelled as the material for a thousand uses. It has been firmly set in the soundproofing, fireproofing, and insulation industry for many years. However, in recent years, asbestos has been linked to lung cancer, asbestosis, and other lung diseases. OSHA {Occupational Safety and health} organization has assisted with protection by introducing three {3} standards. In addition to covering those who work directly with asbestos, these standards cover, 1] maintenance and custodial staff, 2] outside housekeeping services and all 3] trade contractors. For proper hazard protection, we need to understand the nature of this material.

     Asbestos is a naturally occurring material from the mineral family consisting of silicon and magnesium. This combination of minerals takes on the form of hollow, microscopic fibers, densely packed together that are almost indestructible. Its’ structure makes a strong, flexible and very useful material. The forms of asbestos covered by the final OSHA standard are; 1] Amosite, also known as “brown asbestos” which is used in insulation, soundproofing, and fireproofing. 2] Chrysotile or “white asbestos” commonly seen in high friction applications, such as brake shoes or clutches. 3] Crocilodite or “blue asbestos” which is rarely seen or used and, 4] “Asbestiforms” or minerals bonded chemically with asbestos.

     In its early use, asbestos was used as a coating for indoor decorative, as well as acoustical tile in buildings while respected for its soundproofing function. Later, it was sprayed on exposed steel for fire protection. When intact and not disturbed, asbestos is bonded together presenting few hazards. However, if broken apart, these fibers can be as small as 5 microns in size, termed “fibrils”. It is in this state that they may be inhaled and lodge in your lung tissue, scarring it, preventing the “oxygen/carbon dioxide exchange critical for respiration. The term “asbestosis”, as time continues, the lungs worsen creating severe oxygen starvation, illness, and death. When these fibrils migrate to the lung lining called the “pleura”, they can cause a rare form of cancer called “malignant mesothilioma”.

     As a responder, there are no detection devices for these fibrils. In addition, there are no symptoms of exposure or acute indications to alert you to this type of exposure. Most effects are chronic in nature, sometimes taking as long as 20 years to present itself. Your only detection device is that these materials are common elements inside many older buildings and exhibit a powdery consistency in air known as “friable”. OSHA regulates asbestos in the “HazCom” standard. See “HazCom” post. Eventually almost all asbestos combinations will physically break apart exhibiting “friability”. When this occurs, your HazCom should be activated. Response will be based on the kind of ACM’s {asbestos containing materials} you are mitigating and will dictate your protective actions. “Non-friable asbestos” is much harder to break down into “fibrils” and can be safely mitigated as long as it is not exposed to fibrils created from mechanical friction above 300rpm from a powered tool device. Below this point, they are able to remain bonded together and resist transforming into the powdery state of “fibrils”. Any damaged asbestos product is to be assumed in the friable state and must be mitigated under the HazCom directive. Always avoid any deteriorated ACM and report them to your supervisor immediately.

     Your work risk increases if you work in a building containing ACM, or you work near construction sites, or in the maintenance and custodial services. To protect yourself, follow some common avoidance rules. 1] Never, hang objects from piping covered in ACM. 2] Never, damage suspected ACMs’ by creating dust while working with any ACM. 3] While working around ACM never create dusts from cleaning activities. 4] Follow your companies HazCom standard and wear the appropriate PPE {personal protective equipment} when handling any suspected ACM projects.

     When responding as a hazardous materials responder, remember all collection methods for “friable” asbestos should be mitigated in Level “B”. If level “C” is chosen, be sure to note the correct canister cartridge for your APR. Utilize HEPA {High Efficiency Particulate Air} vacuum filters and Vactoring equipment. If this is not possible, the remaining method is by manual wet wiping for all contaminated surfaces. All waste must be labeled as ACM in the appropriate hazardous waste containers. 


                                                                                                    Haz Mat Mike

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