By Alison Grimes, Health Advocate, MAA Center
Although there are federal and state laws in place to restrict the use of asbestos in products and materials, the dangerous carcinogen has still yet to be banned in the United States. With six different types of asbestos, the natural mineral takes many dangerous shapes and forms. As a result, certain types of asbestos are more lethal than others. Chrysotile, the most common form, has long, curly fibers allowing the fibers to be woven, totaling 90% of the asbestos used in the U.S. Think flooring, walls, ceilings, and roof materials. Other types like Crocidolite (blue asbestos), only account for 4% of U.S. asbestos usage but are by far the most dangerous. The long straight fibers break down easily, causing the asbestos products to be more friable and prone to becoming airborne. Tremolite, Anthrophyllite, Actinolite, and Amosite are other types of asbestos that can be found in cement sheets, pipe insulation, ceiling tiles, drywall among other construction products. With the countless number of older buildings and homes still containing the dangerous material, it’s safe to say asbestos abatement projects aren’t going to slow down anytime soon. In order to minimize the risk of asbestos exposure, abatement professionals need to make sure they’re correctly using safety equipment in an asbestos abatement project.
No Paper Dust Masks!
Paper dust masks do not filter out asbestos fibers and should never be used when dealing with asbestos. People are surprised to realize that the microscopic fibers are hundreds of times finer than a single strand of hair. The invisible carcinogens can easily be inhaled and lodged in the lining of the lungs, without the victim even knowing they’ve been exposed. Once the fibers are embedded in the lining of the lungs (mesothelium), it can take 10-50 years before the lungs develop asbestos related cancer.
In order to prevent the inhalation of the fibers, half face or full face respirators need to be worn and should consist of a silicone or rubber face piece, elastic harness, and an appropriate HEPA filter cartridge that removes 99.9% of airborne particles. It’s important to note that respirators provide little protection if they do not fit properly. Facial hair will most likely not allow the respirator to fit properly. If a clean shaven face is not on the agenda, it’s important to conduct further research and reach out to the respirator vendors to get more information.
Eyewear should always be worn when removing asbestos-containing materials (ACM), especially during overhead removal when the dust can fall on the person. Likewise, eyewear is still required during projects where the ACM is not overhead, for example, a floor tile removal. The extremely lightweight fibers are easily carried through the air, so never assume all the dust has settled on the ground posing no danger.
Absolutely no part of the skin should be exposed during an asbestos removal project. The sharp fibers can become embedded in the skin, causing asbestos warts. Unlike other asbestos-related diseases, this is an external condition and poses less of a risk than internal exposure. Disposable coveralls are preferred to reusable coveralls, that way the coveralls can be disposed of as asbestos waste after the cleanup. Always check for rips or tears before use and be sure the material is suitable for preventing asbestos penetration. Other key features in safe coveralls include fitted hoods and cuffs - the DuPont Tyvek Coverall Suit in this lead/asbestos removal kit is an example of safe coveralls for asbestos abatement.
Rubber boots should be worn under, rather than over the coveralls so the dust does not fall into the boot and contaminate it. It’s important the boots are washed off and the threads are checked for debris after completion, otherwise, the dust can be tracked to other areas outside of the work area. Asbestos is nothing to mess around with, hence the need for professionals to handle any removal jobs. The necessary safety equipment paired with the knowledge of asbestos dangers will allow abatement professionals to make the world a safer place, one project at a time.
Contact PK Safety experts with questions or for help ordering the correct products for your specific job.