What Does Asbestos Look Like? A Short Field Guide

Most of us are aware that asbestos can be dangerous, and can potentially cause mesothelioma—a very serious type of cancer.

Asbestos is a fibrous material, mined from the ground, and mixed with many different materials to provide fire-proofing, insulation and strength. Unfortunately, it is not always possible to easily identify asbestos, and asbestos is not always marked as such.

Asbestos was frequently used in the building and construction industry because of its heat- resistant capabilities, until it was finally banned in 1999. This means that there are hundreds of thousands of homes & businesses built prior to 2000 which may contain asbestos materials.

It is important to remember, that asbestos or suspected asbestos materials should never be intentionally disturbed as airborne asbestos can be very dangerous to your health. This is meant only to be a brief guide to possible places asbestos may still be lingering in our daily lives.

If you don’t know what to look for in your home or workplace, here are some tips to help you identify asbestos in your surroundings:

The UK began marketing cement sheets in 1984 which looked very similar to sheets containing asbestos, making identification that much more difficult. Unfortunately, asbestos sheets at the time were less expensive, so even though there was an alternative material, people continued to use asbestos sheets until the substance was banned in the U.S. in 1999.

While some asbestos will have identification marks, many will not. There are laboratories which specialize in identifying asbestos, through testing and analysis.

There are six different types of asbestos, each with different properties, and a different appearance. These six types of asbestos which are:

  • Brown asbestos—amosite—is commonly used for electrical, chemical and thermal insulations as well as plumbing items, including pipe lagging.
  • White asbestos-chrysotile—is the most widely-used asbestos, and is commonly used in brake pads, roofing materials and many other items.
  • Blue asbestos—crocidolite—has the thinnest fibers of any other asbestos forms, and is typically used in spray-on insulation and water encasement.
  • Actinolite can be flexible or brittle, and is used in concrete, insulation and fireproof clothing.
  • Anthophyllite is a rarer type of asbestos, used many years ago in talcum powder.
  • Tremolite is strong and flexible, and is typically used in paints, sealants, and fireproof clothing.

Asbestos in Walls

A wall containing asbestos can be very difficult to identify.

Asbestos was used in both commercial and residential spaces, although in commercial buildings asbestos was used primarily for office walls and dividers. In residential buildings, asbestos was used primarily for bathroom and kitchen walls.

Most asbestos insulation boards have distinctive connections between panels, however testing will likely be necessary for a definitive identification of an asbestos wall.

If your home or office has drywall on the walls, it is unlikely there is any plaster, therefore it is unlikely there is any asbestos.

Insulation Applications

Asbestos insulation board was used for fireproofing, lift shaft linings, under window panels, for partition walls, for soffits and for ceiling tiles.

Take a look at what fireproofing material you can see. If it appears fluffy, crumbly and fibrous, and is a muddy brown color or looks like white cotton wool, you may have sprayed-on asbestos insulation.

Thermal insulation coating commonly found on hot water lines, water heaters, boilers and steampipes installed prior to 1981 could have asbestos mixed in. If it does have asbestos, it will resemble a paper-like covering, or cardboard, and would normally be white.

Decorative Applications

Asbestos was often used in decorative wall textures and plasters. Unfortunately, it is virtually impossible to identify whether there is asbestos in the plaster without testing.

Asbestos used for soundproofing was often mixed into the plaster, and may look like either a sprayed-on cement type of material, or could be a troweled-on material which looks friable (crumbly). Most spaces which used this type of soundproofing were plastered prior to 1981.

Asbestos was commonly used in vinyl flooring, although flooring with asbestos is considered a very low risk product.

Look closely at your floor tiles. Some floor tiles between the 1920’s and the 1970’s can contain an asbestos/asphalt combination. They may be black, or dark colored.

Friable asbestos can be crumbled, crushed or turned to powder by a human hand, while non-friable asbestos does not crumble easily. This is an important distinction because friable asbestos has been banned, while non-friable asbestos is still used.

Non-friable asbestos would only be regulated in situations where the material has been eroded, or has been processed in a manner which could make it susceptible to crumbling or turning to powder.

Although chrysotile has clearly been linked to cancer, it is still used in brake linings, water supply lines, roofing shingles and cement building materials.

Unfortunately, asbestos is also still commonly used in developing countries so if you have spent time abroad, you may have been exposed.

If you discover that you have been exposed to dangerous asbestos through work, it is important that you contact an experienced asbestos attorney as soon as possible. We’re here for you!

By | 2017-05-03T11:35:02+00:00 April 10th, 2017|Asbestos|Comments Off on What Does Asbestos Look Like? A Short Field Guide