Asbestos Exposure in NY – Fact Sheet

What is asbestos?

Asbestos is the name of a group of mineral based fibrous minerals that share similar chemical and physical properties.  Asbestos is valued for its insulating quality, strength, flexibility, and durability. It has been used by humans for thousands of years with widespread commercial use in the early 20th century.

In New York asbestos was used for decades in building and other structures, homes, ships, trains and even roads. Many of these remain today and because of this, so there is a good chance that you have or will come in contact with asbestos. Here are some facts about asbestos you should know:

Where has asbestos been used in NY?

It is not usually possible to tell whether a product contains asbestos, because often a product with asbestos looks exactly like the one without. A sample must be analyzed by a qualified laboratory. Asbestos is used in a wide range of manufactured products and building materials. Typically certain types of older products contain asbestos. Common products are:

  • Cement roofs, wall insulation, drains and gutters.
  • Floor tiles, textiles and composites – textiles in fuse boxes, old fire blankets, heat resistant gloves.
  • Bath fixtures, window sills.
  • Textured and sprayed coatings, plaster, wallboard and joint compound, putties, caulks, paints, and cements
  • Roofing shingles and tars.
  • Insulation for pipes and boilers, fireproofing panels in fire doors, elevator shaft linings, ceiling tiles.
  • Insulation in between walls cavities, under floorboards and in loft spaces.
  • Brake linings in vehicles.

What are the health effects of asbestos exposure?

Asbestos contains thin fibrous crystals that can be released by abrasion and other processes occurring during manufacturing, use or degradation over time. These fibrils are inhaled or consumed where they get into the breathing passages, lungs and even the digestive tract, and get stuck there. Over time they accumulate and cause health problems. All types of asbestos fibers are harmful to humans, and prolonged inhalation of asbestos fibers can cause serious and fatal illnesses including lung cancer, mesothelioma, and asbestosis. The risk of these diseases increases with the number of fibers inhaled or consumed. Most people with asbestos-related diseases were exposed to high concentrations at work.

Are any types of asbestos that are safe to humans?

No, and there are no safe exposure levels of asbestos to humans. There are indications that some types of asbestos may be more dangerous than others. An asbestos type that is easily crushed is called friable asbestos which poses a known greater risk because it can easily release fibers in the air. Friable asbestos is often found in older fireproofing on structural beams, sprayed-on ceiling texture or insulation, thermal pipe insulation and acoustical insulation.

What should be done?

The chances of asbestos exposure in New York is fairly high but this does not mean you will get sick. But you should be proactive, if you think you are exposed to asbestos. If the material containing asbestos is in good condition, has not been disturbed, and is not friable asbestos it may not cause a threat and sometimes be left in place. Generally speaking, material in good condition will not release asbestos fibers. Asbestos in poor repair must be removed by specially trained and equipped workers following strict procedures to ensure that airborne asbestos does not spread. Workers or contractors who disturb ACM in any way must be certified and licensed according to New York State law. Call to get any questions answered about asbestos and its abatement at Department of Labor State Office Campus, Room 161A, Albany, NY  12240 (518) 457-2735