Why Be Concerned?

Asbestos is one of the most widely recognized construction health hazards. In addition to causing asbestosis, a debilitating lung disease, it is also an established carcinogen. It is estimated by HEW that up to two million excess cancer deaths will occur in the U.S. Over the next 30 years as a result of past asbestos exposures. Asbestos is a topic of vital concern to all involved in construction.

Asbestos may be more common than you think

There exists a dangerous misconception among some persons in the construction industry that the U.S. Government has banned the use of asbestos. While certain limitations have been imposed by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the Consumer Product Safety Commission (and further restrictions are currently under consideration by both agencies), this by no means has eliminated the use of asbestos. Over 800 million tons of this mineral fiber are used annually in this country, and over two thirds of its 3,000 uses are in construction. Even if it would be banned in the future, asbestos will be a continuing hazard in maintenance, remodeling, and demolition for many years to come. A few of its current construction uses include: floor tile, roofing materials, drywall compounds, gaskets, packing materials, electric insulation corrosion resistant coatings, heat resistant materials, and asbestos cement pipe and sheet. Airborne asbestos fibers have been shown to be a health hazard. Asbestos-containing materials are usually found as insulation on heating and air-conditioning systems, as building fireproofing and as surface coating in acoustical applications.

Hazard recognition may be your first step

To determine if asbestos is used in specific product, first check the label. Additional information can be obtained by requesting a Material Safety Data Sheet (MSDS) from the manufacturer. The data sheet should list any hazardous substances that are present in the product. If in doubt, play it safe. Even short exposures to asbestos may be harmful. Positive identification of asbestos can be made by laboratory analysis of bulk samples of the suspected materials and/or workplace air samples. Bulk samples are simple to obtain; you may be able to do this yourself. Collection of air samples requires more elaborate techniques and are best performed by a specialist, usually an industrial hygienist. A number of private and government laboratories offer asbestos analysis service. Remember, the fibers that can enter the body and cause damage are too small to be seen with the naked eye. If in doubt, seek professional help.

Disposal of Asbestos

When disposing asbestos waste, federal occupational toxic substance, and hazardous material transportation regulations must be complied with. These requirements include the following:

  • Asbestos-containing wastes must be packaged, transported and disposed of with no visible emissions to the outside air. Asbestos must be transported in accordance with Department of Transportation regulations. Asbestos waste may be packaged in 6 mil plastic bags within sealed fiberboard or steel drums. Both bags and drums must be labeled with a warning label that states: CAUTION CONTAINS ASBESTOS
    Avoid Opening or Breaking Container Breathing Asbestos is Hazardous to Your Health
  • The bags may be dumped from the drum into the burial site. The drums may be reused. If a bag is broken or damaged, the entire drum should be buried.
  • It is strongly recommended that personnel involved in the unloading and disposal of asbestos wear protective equipment including coveralls and dust respirators designed for use with asbestos.

Where to go for help

We would be happy to assist you with any questions you may have. Additional resources include:


  • Consumer Products Safety Commission, (800) 638-2666
  • NIOSH – National Institute of Occupational Safety & Health
  • OSHA – Occupational Safety & Health Act – contact the industrial hygiene area office nearest you.
  • EPA – Environmental Protection Agency
  • NCI – Cancer information Service CO: (800)3 32-1850; WY & MT: (800) 638-6694
  • Local Waste management Administrators within municipalities, cities, counties, & states


  • Health Hazards of Asbestos (OSHA 3040), (OSHA Publication, USDOL, Room N3423, Washington, DC 20210
  • Asbestos Exposure (DHEW/NIH 79-1622), Office of Cancer Communications, National Cancer Institute, Bethesda, Maryland 20014