Disturbing asbestos-containing materials can easily release toxic fibers into the air which will endanger not only the occupants in the building but also nearby residents. The fibers can stay in the air for days before settling. But since the fibers are very light, they can easily become airborne again once disturbed. Here, we will discuss airborne asbestos fibers in detail including how to detect and handle them along with the health risks of inhaling asbestos in the air.
How Long Does Asbestos Stay in the Air After Disturbance?
Toxic fibers can stay in the air for 48-72 hours after the asbestos-containing material (ACM) has been disturbed. However, this will depend on various factors including:
- The location of the ACM like insulation, flooring, walls, and others and whether it is inside or outside (asbestos outside usually stays in the air for a shorter time)
- Room size (asbestos will settle faster in larger rooms)
- Room ventilation
How Long Does It Take for Asbestos to Settle?
Theoretically, asbestos will settle after 48-72 hours as we’ve mentioned. But the fibers are very light and thinner than hair strands so even the slightest movement or breeze can cause them to become airborne again. So unless you remove the source of the fibers, they can stay in the air for a long time.
How Far Can Asbestos Travel in the Air?
There is no definite answer as to how far asbestos can travel in the air, but the fibers can travel far away due to their aerodynamic properties. Human interference and air currents will undoubtedly have an impact on how far they can travel.
Can Asbestos Fibers Linger in the Air Outside?
Renovation and demolition activities along with disturbing asbestos-contaminated soil can cause fibers to become airborne outside. Although the concentration of asbestos fibers in outdoor air is much lower than indoor levels, testing and inspection should still be carried out to guarantee safety.
Can You Detect Asbestos in the Air? Can You See or Smell Asbestos Fibers?
You can’t see or smell asbestos fibers in the air because they don’t release any odor. Thus, you can’t detect airborne asbestos. ACMs will smell the same as non-asbestos materials. The fibers are also microscopic and won’t be seen by the naked eye. If you see asbestos debris, then it may already be releasing clusters of toxic fibers into the air. So once an ACM is disturbed or damaged, always assume that fibers are already floating in the air and you are at risk of exposure.
Can You Monitor Airborne Asbestos?
Yes, professional asbestos testing and inspection can monitor asbestos in the air. Air samples can be gathered by a certified inspector and will undergo laboratory analysis. This way, we can monitor the concentration of breathable fibers in the air. You shouldn’t rely on home asbestos testing kits. Asbestos air monitoring by a licensed company is the only way to guarantee reliable and accurate results. Professionals can even advise you regarding proper remediation.
Also Read: Do Home Inspections Check for Asbestos?
How Does Asbestos Become Airborne?
Asbestos can become airborne mostly during renovation work where the ACMs in insulation, roofing, ceiling tiles, walls, siding, and others are torn down, cut, sanded, or ripped. Other damage like weather damage and fire can also disturb ACMs in old residential and commercial properties.
What To Do If Asbestos Is Disturbed?
If the workers during construction activities have discovered ACMs on the site, they should:
- Stop any work and put up warning signs to prevent entry to the area
- Inform those responsible for building management regarding suspected asbestos materials
- Inform potentially affected individuals and have nonessential personnel leave the area
- Contact a professional asbestos inspection company to test the area
- Clean up any dust and debris
- Decontaminate all protective equipment and cleaning materials along with exposed individuals
How to Clean Asbestos That Has Settled In Your Home
The Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) warns against dusting, sweeping, and vacuuming asbestos as these will disturb the fibers. Asbestos dust should be removed through wet mopping or using a specialized HEPA vacuum cleaner which should be done by a certified asbestos contractor.
Health Risks of Exposure to Airborne Asbestos
The tiny asbestos fibers can travel deep into your lungs and cause various diseases such as lung cancer, asbestosis, and mesothelioma which is a deadly and incurable type of cancer. The risk increases with repeated exposure and if the exposed person has a history of smoking.
Moreover, since you can’t see or smell asbestos, you might already be inhaling it without you noticing. They also don’t cause symptoms immediately after exposure. This is what makes asbestos extremely dangerous.
How Can You Be Exposed to Asbestos? Where Does Exposure Occur?
The people who have the highest risk of getting exposed to asbestos are demolition and renovation workers, maintenance workers, asbestos abatement workers, and other individuals working around asbestos. However, second-hand exposure can also happen where the workers can bring asbestos-contaminated clothes home and expose their family members.
6 Types of Asbestos Fibers That Can Cause Asbestos Diseases
There are six types of asbestos under the amphibole and serpentine mineral families that can cause asbestos diseases:
- Chrysotile (White Asbestos) – The most commonly used asbestos that can be found in many building materials.
- Amosite (Brown Asbestos) – The second most common asbestos and one of the most dangerous types.
- Actinolite – An extremely rare asbestos.
- Crocidolite (Blue Asbestos) – The most dangerous type in the amphibole family that has caused more deaths and illnesses compared to other types.
- Anthophyllite – Not commonly used in commercial applications but can be found in insulation products.
- Tremolite – Another minor type of asbestos found in plumbing and roofing materials.
All asbestos types are not safe but some types can be more dangerous compared to others. They can all cause:
- Lung cancer
- Ovarian cancer
- Laryngeal cancer
- Colon cancer
- Pleural plaques
- Rectal cancer
- Throat cancer
- Stomach cancer, etc.
How Much Asbestos Exposure Is Dangerous?
No level of asbestos exposure is considered safe for any type of asbestos fiber. The fact that the EPA has issued multiple asbestos laws and regulations just proves that asbestos is extremely dangerous to human health. Even the smallest level of exposure can increase your risk of developing deadly diseases in the future. Also, exposure to asbestos is cumulative which means that the fibers will build up in your respiratory system over time and can result in significant health complications.
How Long Before You Get Sick From Asbestos?
You won’t get sick immediately after exposure to asbestos fibers. The symptoms may occur 10 to 40+ years after the exposure when treatment has become difficult or the disease has become impossible to cure.
How Do You Know if You Have Been Exposed to Asbestos?
The only way you can check if you have been exposed to asbestos is through tests like lung scanning, chest x-ray, CAT scan, and others by a medical professional.
What Should I Do if Exposed to Asbestos?
You should consult your doctor immediately so they can perform appropriate screening tests if you think you’ve inhaled airborne asbestos. Also, since your risk of developing asbestos-related diseases increases with exposure, short-term exposure is less likely to cause serious health complications. So to reduce your risk of developing serious diseases, better conduct asbestos air monitoring to confirm the presence of asbestos in your home/business. In case ACMs are found, you need to hire a professional asbestos abatement company to remove the asbestos.
Asbestos fibers can settle within 48-72 hours in environments with few disturbances. However, any movement and even the smallest air current can cause the settled dust to become airborne again.
Unless you have inhaled or ingested a large amount of asbestos fibers, the risk of asbestos diseases from one-time exposure is very low.
No, asbestos fibers don’t evaporate in the air or dissolve in water. They don’t burn or react significantly with most chemicals. Thus, they can’t be easily broken down.
Asbestos fibers can remain suspended in the air for a long time and can’t be detected through sight or smell. Only asbestos air monitoring by licensed and trained professionals can accurately detect them. So if you suspect airborne asbestos in your home or building, contact an asbestos testing and inspection company to prevent further exposure.
RPF Environmental works with residential and commercial sectors for accurate and reliable asbestos testing services throughout the U.S. We offer affordable services tailored to your specific needs. Contact us now!