What is Asbestos?
Asbestos is a general term referring to six naturally occurring fibrous silicate minerals. Asbestos fibers have been used since ancient times. Asbestos gained widespread use in manufacturing, and building insulation in the late 19th century due to its high tensile strength, its flexibility, resistance to heat and corrosive chemicals
What are the risks associated with asbestos?
Asbestos is a known carcinogen (cancer causing agent). The danger of asbestos exposure can occur when asbestos fibers are released into the air they can be inhaled or swallowed. Asbestos has no smell or taste and asbestos fibers are so small that they are not visible to the naked eye. The fibers can lodge in the lung or other body tissues and over time lead to the development of diseases. Inhalation of asbestos fibers can cause serious illnesses, including mesothelioma (a rare form of cancer) and asbestosis (a progressive fibrotic disease of the lungs caused by relatively heavy exposure to asbestos). The symptoms of these diseases, however, can take 30 – 40 years to appear.
How Was Asbestos Used?
Asbestos was widely used as a binding agent in thousands of building materials from the early 1900’s until the early 1980’s. Some typical uses of asbestos include drywall taping compound, cement pipes, vinyl floor tiles, boiler and pipe insulation, automotive breaks and clutches, electric wiring insulation, structural fireproofing and roofing materials.
Where is Asbestos at W&M?
Many of W&M buildings constructed prior to 1985 contain asbestos, including floor tiles, mastics, HVAC duct tape, pipe insulation, roofing, spray-applied ceiling textures, ceiling tiles and drywall taping compounds; therefore asbestos management is a major concern. Asbestos becomes a health risk when the materials are disturbed and microscopic asbestos fibers become airborne and are inhaled. When left alone and remain undamaged, the materials present little to no health risk. The current W&M asbestos policy is to manage asbestos containing materials in place.
Management in-place means that asbestos containing materials are disturbed or removed only when necessary. Typically this is prior to building renovations or demolitions, when the material could be disturbed or when the material becomes damaged.
The EH&S office maintains a database detailing known locations of asbestos containing materials. If you have questions about a particular location, contact the EH&S office prior to disturbing the material.
College of William and Mary's Asbestos Management Plan (doc)
College of William and Mary's database for Asbestos in W&M Buildings (xls)