Asbestos was most commonly used in construction, including drywall, cement and insulation. Companies that manufactured these products knew about the dangers but ignored them, putting employees and consumers at risk. These companies were later forced to create asbestos trusts that provide funds for mesothelioma victims.
Asbestos can also be found in automotive parts, plumbing, electrical work, air conditioning units and clothing. Despite widespread health concerns, asbestos is not banned in the United States. It is still found in items that include vehicle brake pads, home insulation, potting soils and roofing materials.
Asbestos came into popularity in the 1800s as the go-to insulation material because it was inexpensive, easy to use and virtually indestructible. Researchers now know asbestos is the main cause of mesothelioma cancer.
- Tile – Asbestos was used in cork, rubber, ceramic, clay and vinyl floor tiles to make the materials stronger and more flexible. While the asbestos fibers in the tiles are virtually indestructible, the tiles themselves are not. Asbestos fibers are released into the air when tiles are damaged or broken.
- Vinyl and Linoleum – Beginning in the early 20th century, vinyl and linoleum flooring sheets and tiles were used in most homes because they were easy to install, clean and maintain. Asbestos was widely used in vinyl and linoleum flooring to increase tensile strength. Flooring backing, also known as floor felt, and floor adhesive also contained asbestos.
Roofing and Siding
- Roofing – Beginning in the 1950s, asbestos was used in every layer of an average composite roof because of the material’s reputation for longevity. That included roofing tar, adhesive, felt underlayment, flashing and tiles made from clay, concrete and asphalt.
- Siding and Shingles – Siding and shingles were the first commercial products manufactured and marketed in the U.S. to include asbestos. Mined asbestos fibers were added to shingles and siding products to protect from extreme weather and fire. However, even with the added asbestos, weathering causes the materials to break down over time, increasing the risk for asbestos exposure.
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Electrical and Mechanical Products
Asbestos was widely used in electrical and mechanical equipment and machinery as an insulator and heat protectant. Sheets of asbestos insulation were wrapped around electrical wiring and used in high-heat and fire-prone areas.
- Electrical – Felted asbestos insulation was used on electrical wiring to reduce conductivity, reducing the risk for fire. It was wrapped around and placed in between high- and low-voltage wiring, arc chutes, switches, connectors and other components. When the insulation is disturbed, fibers become airborne.
- Mechanical – Asbestos was used in mechanical equipment to ensure machinery was kept at optimal temperatures and protected from chemicals and fire. It was used in equipment that includes heating and air conditioning units (HVAC), lighting, automotive parts and heavy construction equipment. It was also widely used in mechanical equipment aboard military vessels.
Adhesives, Sealants, and Cement
Asbestos was used in cement, adhesives, coatings and sealants to add bulk to the material, reduce shrinkage, increase tensility and add heat and fire resistance. These products were used in various applications, including military, automotive and construction.
- Adhesives and Sealants – Adhesives and sealants with added asbestos were widely used because they formed stronger bonds to a variety of surfaces. Many of these adhesives and sealants contained up to 25 percent asbestos, increasing the risk of asbestos exposure when the product is damaged or breaks. Asbestos is still found in many adhesives and sealants.
- Cement and Coatings – Cements and coatings with asbestos that come in a powder form must be mixed with water, creating a dangerous cloud of asbestos. Asbestos cement also comes in sheets to be used in construction work. Coatings that contain asbestos also include spackle, texturizing, acoustic plaster and waterproofing.
- Minnesota Department of Health. Roofing and siding. Retrieved from http://http://www.health.state.mn.us/divs/eh/asbestos/homeowner/roofside.htm
- U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission. Asbestos in the home. Retrieved from http://www.cpsc.gov/en/Safety-Education/Safety-Guides/Home/Asbestos-In-The-Home/
- U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. Asbestos’ Impact on Indoor Air Quality. Retrieved from http://www.epa.gov/indoor-air-quality-iaq/asbestos-impact-indoor-air-quality