What is Asbestos?

Think back to your environmental science classes. Did your professor ever bring up the topic of asbestos?

If not, you’ve probably heard of it by now – even if it was only on a late-night commercial during your last all-night study session. You’re not entirely sure (Hey, you were sleep deprived – it happens! ) but you vaguely remember the commercial mentioning something about cancer and lawyers . . . nothing you need to worry about, right?

Unfortunately, asbestos is a serious threat – even for college students.

Asbestos is a naturally occurring mineral that was heavily used as an industrial material until the 1980s. It was found to be an excellent fireproofing material, and it was mostly used as insulation for drywall, tiles, pipes and various other construction products. Several hundred widely used products were all made with asbestos as a primary ingredient.

Unfortunately, this mineral flakes apart easily. When that happens, tiny fibers are released into the air.

They can be released through any sort of structural damage to the material, such as scraping up asbestos caulking, chipping off asbestos paint or renovating buildings with asbestos-contaminated insulation.

Once asbestos has been released into the air, people can inhale it easily.

Inhaling or ingesting asbestos can lead to cancers such as mesothelioma and lung cancer, as well as other serious diseases such as asbestosis or pleural plaques. Although asbestos is a natural mineral found in the environment, it is still recognized as a Class A carcinogen for causing cancer in humans.

Asbestos in Universities

Many asbestos-contaminated construction products were sold to colleges and universities, where they still remain today. However, asbestos products in universities are not considered to be a risk for students unless the fibers are released into the air.

Recently, some universities have revealed toxic asbestos on their campus.

In February 2012, asbestos was found in the fitness center, library, lab and residence halls at California State University at Northridge, and students and staff were advised to take special care around these areas. Florida State University, Wesleyan University and the University of Rhode Island are other major universities to report asbestos in their structures.

Even on campuses that have not had a public asbestos issue in the past, it is safe to assume that buildings constructed before the 1980s contain asbestos products and that any sort of disturbance to the structure could cause a health risk.

To ensure the safety of their students and staff, most universities are required to enact an asbestos management plan. If you encounter potential sources of exposed asbestos on your college campus, be sure to report it to administration for proper care.

Author bio: Faith Franz is a writer for the Mesothelioma Center. She combines her interests in whole-body health and medical research to educate the mesothelioma community about the newest developments in cancer care.

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