Where asbestos can be found
In the workplace
Asbestos can be found in the workplace, particularly if you work or have worked as a(n):
- Brake repair mechanic
- Demolition worker
- Dry wall finisher
- Insulation installer
- Pipe or steam fitter
- Shipyard worker
- Vermiculite processing plant worker
Outdoor workers, such as construction workers, landscapers, and excavators might be exposed to naturally occurring asbestos found above the ground through activities that crush asbestos-containing rock or stir up dust in soils that contain asbestos.
In the homes of workers
Workers who were exposed to asbestos in the workplace may have brought asbestos fibers home on their clothes, shoes, and bodies. Therefore, people who lived in their households could have been exposed to asbestos, too. Even handling and washing a worker’s clothes could have exposed someone to asbestos.
In the natural environment
Asbestos can be found in the natural environment:
Under the ground. Deposits were mined in the United States and are still mined in Australia, Canada, South Africa, and the former Soviet Union. Asbestos is usually found mixed into other minerals.
Above the ground. Naturally occurring asbestos refers to those fibrous minerals that are found in the rocks or soil in an area and released into the air by:
- routine human activities or
- weathering processes
People might be exposed to naturally occurring asbestos above the ground through leisure and work activities that crush asbestos-containing rock or stir up dust in soils that contain asbestos fibers.
Living in Libby, Montana
Vermiculite mining occurred in the town of Libby, Montana from the 1920s until 1990. The vermiculite ore mined in Libby was contaminated with amphibole asbestos and other similar fibers. People who lived, worked, attended school, or participated in activities near a vermiculite mine in Libby, Montana before December 31, 1990 may have also been exposed to asbestos.
Living near a vermiculite processing plant
People who lived near a processing plant that received vermiculite from a mine in Libby, Montana could have been exposed to asbestos. Sometimes when the plant or mine was operating, dust and asbestos fibers were released into the air.
Also, some people may have taken waste rock from the plant or mining area to their homes for gardens, children’s play areas, and for fill or paving material. People who came in contact with this waste rock probably breathed in air that contained asbestos fibers.
In consumer products
Asbestos can be found in consumer products, mostly in:
- building materials
- friction products
- heat-resistant fabrics
The majority of all vermiculite insulation produced before 1990 used contaminated vermiculite from Libby. That means older homes and buildings may have asbestos-containing products such as attic insulation, fireproofing materials, gypsum wallboard, and lightweight aggregate construction materials (such as concrete blocks). Asbestos fibers may be released into the air when asbestos-containing material is disturbed during product use, demolition work, building or home maintenance, repair, and remodeling. In general, exposure occurs only when the asbestos-containing material is disturbed in some way that releases particles and fibers into the air. Asbestos-containing material will not harm you if it is left undisturbed and the fibers are not released into the air. The majority of all vermiculite insulation produced before 1990 used contaminated vermiculite from Libby.
Since asbestos fibers may cause harmful health effects in people who are exposed, all new uses of asbestos have been banned in the United States by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. However, some exposures from commercial products continue, but to a lesser extent.