Asbestos

What is asbestos?

Asbestos is a naturally occurring mined mineral that is found in the earth, most commonly in Russia, Canada, China, Brazil, Kazakhstan and Zimbabwe. It was widely used in the 19th and early 20th century in construction due to its excellent properties including, heat insulation, chemical resistance and strength.

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What is the permissible exposure level for asbestos?

According to OSHA (Occupational Safety and Health Administration), a worker can be exposed to 0.1 fibers per cubic centimeter (f/cc) of air. This is called the Permissible Exposure Limit.

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Is it safe to work near asbestos?

It is safe to work near asbestos containing materials as long as they remain intact. This means the fibers are trapped inside the matrix of the material in which they are comprised of. As long as the asbestos containing materials are not disturbed or damaged it poses no threat to the health and safety of the individual working nearby.

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Where is asbestos normally found?

Since asbestos was commonly used to add fire and heat resistance and tensile strength to building materials, they can commonly be found in the following building materials: pipe, tank, and boiler insulation, floor coverings (9"X9", 12"X12", linoleum), roofing materials, spray-on fire-proofing, glues, mastic, caulks, and ceiling tiles. Asbestos is found in hundreds of other products.

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Who pays for the removal of asbestos?

If the removal is part of a renovation project then the cost is covered as part of the project budget.  It the responsibility of the department to arrange for payment of any asbestos containing materials removed in quantities greater than 50 square feet or 100 linear feet. Quantities that are under 50 square feet or 100 linear feet will be considered part of operations and maintenance (O&M) and will be paid for by Environmental Health and Safety with the exception of RH&D, Residential Properties, and Steam Plant who pay for all O&M as well as large scale abatement projects.

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How do I report damaged asbestos containing building materials?

If you find any damaged building materials that you suspect may contain asbestos, notify your supervisor, they will contact Environmental Health and Safety who will check the sampling records or collect a sample and have it sent to a lab for analysis. Environmental Health and Safety will arrange for the repair or removal of the damaged material.

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How can I tell if something contains asbestos?

A state-licensed asbestos building inspector (members of the Environmental Health and Safety Department or a third-party consultant) will take a small piece of the material and send it to a lab to be analyzed. Asbestos-containing materials are those materials which contain greater than 1% asbestos (>1%) by laboratory analysis. It is important to note that asbestos cannot be determined by visual inspection, only laboratory analysis can determine with certainty that asbestos is present in a material.

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Will asbestos travel through the ventilation system during abatement?

Asbestos removal regulations require specific engineering controls and prepping measures to ensure asbestos does not migrate out of the contained area. Additionally, if the material is friable or will become friable the ventilation system will be shut down and the vents will be sealed with plastic sheeting. Additionally, the air is misted with amended water to eliminate the generation of dust and the contained area is placed under negative pressure (i.e., air is pulled into contained area). This ensures that unfiltered air does not escape the work area. The air is drawn into the contained area and filtered through high efficiency particulate air (H.E.P.A.) filters to capture any potential fibers that may be generated during removal work. Air monitoring is conducted in the contained area and outside the contained area to ensure engineering controls are operating.

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Are there any government regulations that apply to asbestos?

Several government agencies have regulations that apply to asbestos. OSHA, and EPA as well as the State of Illinois and City of Chicago have regulations that govern the removal, transportation and disposal of asbestos-containing building materials.

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Why is asbestos hazardous?

The two most common asbestos related illnesses are due to exposure of high concentrations of asbestos, inhaled over a long time period. People who become ill from asbestos are almost always those who are exposed on a daily basis in a job where they work directly with the material. As a person’s exposure to fibers increases, either by breathing more fibers or by breathing fibers for a longer time, that person’s risk of disease also increases. This is defined as the dose-response relationship.

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What are the immediate symptoms of asbestos exposure?

Asbestos exposure does not cause immediate symptoms like headaches, dizziness or shortness of breath. Asbestos does not have a smell and the fibers are too small to cause a cough or irritate the throat. However, chronic exposure to asbestos causes what are known as latent health effects; exposures may not manifest any illnesses until 10-40 years after exposure.

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There are a few loose floor tiles in my work area; since they are intact is it ok for me to just throw them away?

No, if you find any loose, damaged or deteriorating floor tile in your work area contact Environmental Health and Safety. We will arrange for its proper removal and disposal. Under no circumstances is any University of Chicago employee allowed to remove damaged asbestos-containing building materials.

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