Asbestos is the name given to a group of fibrous minerals that are heat and corrosion resistant, and do not conduct electricity. They are all naturally occurring and include amosite, chrysotile, crocidolite, tremolite, actinolite, and anthophyllite. Chrysotile (aka white asbestos), is the most common form of commercial asbestos. Asbestos is a known human carcinogen (category 1A), as classified by the EPA, the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC), and the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS). (1,2,3,4)

Uses [2,3]

Asbestos is used in a wide range of applications. Asbestos is mainly mined for building materials, fiction products, and heat-resistant fabrics. Due to its significant negative health effects, the EPA banned all new uses of asbestos in 1989, however it can still be found in many buildings. It was also used for insulation (of hot water pipes, boilers and steam pipes), roofing, sound absorption, clutch pads, and in floor tiles, paints, adhesives and plastics.

Routes of Exposure [4]

The main route of exposure for asbestos is inhalation.

This is due to the asbestos fibres becoming airborne.

Low levels of the fibres are present are in the air, water, and soil. However, these do not usually affect people.

Occupations, such as removing asbestos from buildings, can result in high levels of exposure to the fibres.

Health Effects

Asbestos poisoning affects a range of systems, including the respiratory system.

Acute Effects [3,4]

Severity of symptoms depend on the level and type of exposure.

Currently most asbestos-related diseases are caused by longer term exposure to the airborne fibres. However, mesothelioma can be caused by a shorter term exposure to asbestos. Symptoms may not show for decades after exposure, so if any of the symptoms develop, contact a medical professional: pain or tightening in the chest, weight loss, fatigue or anaemia, persistent cough that gets worse over time, shortness of breath, hoarseness, or blood in the sputum.

Chronic Effects [4]

Asbestos is toxic to multiple body systems. Long term exposure to the airborne fibres can result in pleural plaques, progressive pleural effusion, and transpulmonary brands. It can also cause rounded atelectasis and asbestosis. Chronic effects of asbestos exposure also include cancer and malignant mesothelioma of the pleura and peritoneum.


~h2First Aid Measures [5]

  • Ingestion: DO NOT INDUCE VOMITING. If a large amount of fibres are swallowed, get immediate medical attention.
  • Skin contact: Immediately rinse affected areas with plenty of water, followed by soap and water for at least 15 minutes. Remove all contaminated clothing, footwear and accessories. Do not re-wear clothing until it has been thoroughly decontaminated. Contact a doctor immediately.
  • Eye contact: Flush eyes (including under the eyelids), with water for at least 15 minutes. Get medical attention immediately.
  • Inhalation: Take victim to the nearest fresh air source and monitor their breathing. Keep the victim warm. If the victim is not breathing, and you are qualified, you may perform CPR with a one-way valve or protective mask. Immediately contact a medical professional. 
  • General: Never administer anything by mouth to an unconscious, exposed person.

  • Exposure Controls/Personal Protection [5]

  • Engineering controls: Emergency eyewash fountains and safety showers should be accessible in the immediate area of the potential exposure. Ensure there is adequate ventilation. Use a local exhaust ventilation (with a HEPA-filter dust collection system), or process enclosure, to limit the amount of asbestos fibres in the air.

  • Personal protection: Safety glasses, protective and dustproof clothing, gloves, an apron and an appropriate mask or dusk respirator. For specifications regarding other PPE, Follow the guidelines set in your jurisdiction.

Regulation [5]

~h2United States:

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) has set an 8-hour time weighted average (TWA) concentration limit for asbestos of 0.1 fibres/cc (cubic centimetre).

Australia [4]

Safe Work Australia has set an 8-hour time TWA for asbestos of 0.1f/mL.