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Identifying asbestos: What does it look like?

Those with older homes often live in fear that they have asbestos-based products in the home. They've heard about how it's no longer produced or used in the United States because of strong links to cancer and respiratory diseases. But they also know that builders used it for decades before this became clear, and all homes and commercial buildings weren't automatically fixed when it was outlawed.

So, what does asbestos look like? How can you spot it in your home?

The actual asbestos fibers, on their own, are very small. These microscopic particles are dangerous to inhale, but you likely won't see much in the air, as they mingle with the dust.

That said, products are made with millions of fibers. Together, they are often compared to modern attic insulation. You may find balls of it, and they'll be thick and fuzzy. These fibers are often woven together.

These natural fibers had many different uses. In some cases, they were used in insulation. They were also utilized in flooring materials and roofing materials. They were a useful material when fireproofing older buildings. On cars, they were sometimes used in drum brakes and brake pads.

The key thing to remember about asbestos is that the threat doesn't just come from proximity, but from breathing in those fibers. This means that the material typically needs to be crushed or otherwise disturbed so that individual fibers get into the air. That's why asbestos is often left in some buildings, covering it up instead of removing it.

If you have been exposed to asbestos, at work or in your residence, the potential health ramifications are very serious. Make sure you know what legal rights you have.

Source: How Stuff Works, "What Does Asbestos Look Like?," Tiffany Connors, accessed Oct. 05, 2017

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