(pronounced as-BESS-tuhss OR az-BESS-tuhss)
This eight-letter word has essentially become a four-letter word. This fibrous mineral material actually does have positive attributes: it’s odorless, insoluble, chemically inert, and does not conduct heat and electricity. That’s why asbestos has been the ideal material for a myriad of applications: insulating materials (coating, panels, roofing), friction materials (such as clutches and brakes), and sealing materials. Apparently, however, it has some nasty qualities as well. Like causing cancer. And since it was used prevalently in buildings all over the industrialized world for decades, it’s still hanging around today. If broken, asbestos releases long and narrow fibers, which, if inhaled or ingested, may cause different types of cancer (primarily: lung). For this reason, new applications of asbestos are currently banned by law in most industrialized countries, and existing uses are often being phased out. The way we understand it, the USA hasn’t actually banned asbestos in its entirety*, but there are definitely rules enacted on how to handle asbestos abatement during demolition on commercial and residential remodels and teardowns. (In comparison, Iceland banned asbestos in 1986, and in 1999, the European Union directed its members to implement asbestos bans by 2005.) Asbestos abatement has become big business and testing for asbestos prior to demolition or remodeling is almost always required before work may commence.
*Established uses of asbestos include car brakes, asphalt roof coatings, and asbestos cement pipes and sheets. Established asbestos-containing products can still be both manufactured and imported into the USA. The US Federal Court reasoned that if asbestos products were produced and used under controlled conditions, humans would not suffer significant exposure to asbestos fibers; that today’s substitutes for products containing asbestos could pose more risks than the asbestos products themselves; and that asbestos products offered “significant benefits” that couldn’t be found in alternate products.