What is Asbestos?

Asbestos is a collection of naturally occurring minerals once popular in construction for its durable, fire retardant, corrosion-resistant and insulate properties. Asbestos has since been phased out of commercial use due to its link to health problems.


Asbestos is a word used to describe six minerals characterized by densely packed bundles of fibers made up of silicon, oxygen, hydrogen and various metals. Three of the most common types of asbestos are chrysotile, amosite and crocidolite.

Commercial Use

An estimated 30 million tons of asbestos have been used in construction and manufacturing since the early 1900s. During World War II, enormous quantities were used for shipbuilding and other military applications. Following the war, asbestos was lauded by American industries for its durability and versatility. It quickly became a popular component in approximately 3,600 commercial products for fireproofing, insulation, condensation control and decoration.

In the late 1970s, widespread knowledge of the health hazards associated with asbestos exposure caused its popularity to wane. Some asbestos products were banned and phased out beginning in 1989 as a result of a U.S. Environmental Protection Agency ruling.

Health Effects

The inhalation of microscopic asbestos fibers can cause serious health problems. Exposure increases the risk of developing lung cancer, mesothelioma (a rare form of cancer that develops in the protective lining of various organs) or asbestosis (a scarring of the lungs). Symptoms of such asbestos-related diseases may take 15 to 30 years to develop after initial exposure.

Asbestos National Emission Standard for Hazardous Air Pollutants (NESHAP)

Under the Clean Air Act of 1970, the EPA established the Asbestos National Emission Standard for Hazardous Air Pollutants (NESHAP). It is intended to minimize the release of asbestos fibers during activities involving the handling of asbestos | Learn More about NESHAP >