Asbestos is a ubiquitous element of office building materials. The name is given to a number of naturally occurring, fibrous silicate minerals mined for their useful properties such as acoustic insulation, thermal insulation, chemical and thermal stability, and high tensile strength. Asbestos was commonly used as an acoustic insulator, thermal insulation, fire proofing and in other building materials. Many products are still in use today that contain asbestos. Though asbestos pipe insulation was used in homes and schools, asbestos probably has more applications in office buildings. Asbestos is made up of microscopic bundles of fibers that may become airborne when asbestos-containing materials (ACM) are damaged or disturbed. When these fibers get into the air they may be inhaled into the lungs, where they can cause significant health problems.
Until the 1970s, many types of building products contained asbestos, such as steam pipes, boilers and furnace ducts insulated with an asbestos blanket or asbestos paper tape, resilient floor tiles (vinyl asbestos, asphalt, and rubber), the backing on vinyl sheet flooring, adhesives used for installing floor tile, cement sheet and millboard used as insulation around furnaces, and soundproofing or decorative material sprayed on walls and ceilings. Sanding, scraping, or drilling these surfaces may release asbestos. Certain products will typically release asbestos fibers only when they are sawed, drilled, or cut. Thus, commercial tenant renovations in office buildings can release asbestos into the air unless controlled.
The health effects associated with asbestos exposure are generally well known. Exposure to airborne friable asbestos may result in a potential health risk because persons breathing the air may breathe in asbestos fibers. Continued exposure can increase the amount of fibers that remain the lung. Fibers embedded in lung tissue over time may in fact cause serious lung diseases, including asbestosis, lung cancer and mesothelioma.