What Does Asbestos Look Like? And How To Identify It

Asbestos is a naturally occurring fiber used in products manufactured in the 20th century for its durability and heat resistance. Asbestos is still found in many applications, including drywall, flooring, brake parts, roofing, and siding materials. It’s since been discovered that asbestos exposure can cause lung diseases and cancers such as asbestosis and mesothelioma.

Asbestos can be difficult, if not impossible, to see and may require a microscope to identify. There are different types of asbestos fibers, and knowing which one is present can help determine the severity of the risk (although all asbestos exposure is harmful).

If you believe you or a loved one were exposed to asbestos and were diagnosed with an asbestos-related disease like mesothelioma, The Lanier Law Firm can help. Our experienced attorneys can help you and your family obtain the compensation you deserve. Contact us for a free case evaluation today.

What Does Asbestos Look Like?

Asbestos is a naturally occurring fiber mined in countries worldwide and comes in multiple varieties and colors. Asbestos fibers are soft and microscopic and are only seen in clusters. Because the fibers were often mixed into different materials, they are not likely to be seen in their natural color state. 

Obtaining a sample of a potential asbestos-containing material should be done by trained professionals, as disturbing the fibers may release them into the air.

Asbestos fibers are classified by their shape and color. A microscopic examination is required to determine which type of asbestos you are dealing with.

There are two family types of asbestos, serpentine and amphibole fibers, depending on the rock the asbestos is mined from. Common types of asbestos include:

  • Chrysotile asbestos, from the serpentine family, has a curly structure and is the most common type of asbestos in America, making up 90 to 95 percent of asbestos in buildings. 
  • Amphibole asbestos fibers include crocidolite asbestos, which is finer and shaped like a needle.  Crocidolite fibers are more dangerous than chrysotile fibers as they are not as easily exhaled out of the lungs as serpentine asbestos fibers. However, all types of asbestos are hazardous and should be handled by a professional. 

Where is Asbestos Found?

For many decades, before it was known publicly to be hazardous, asbestos was used in a variety of applications:

  • Industrial settings for spray-coating, insulation, textiles, automotive parts, gaskets, plastics, coatings, flooring, and shingles.
  • Pipe insulation in power plants and refineries because asbestos is heat resistant.
  • Gearboxes, switches and other electrical parts.
  • Woven into theater stage curtains to prevent fires.
  • Home building materials. Many homes today still contain vinyl flooring, drywall, roofing, and siding that contains asbestos fibers.  As long as it is encapsulated and not disturbed, asbestos is not likely to be harmful to human health, although secondary exposure to asbestos is an unfortunate outcome of occupational asbestos use.
  • Insulation aboard Navy ships was applied for its light-weight quality and the ever-present fire risk on Navy vessels.

There are even levels of asbestos in the ambient air and drinking water.

Though asbestos is now a known carcinogen, these products and materials are still present in many buildings, schools, and homes.

How to Identify Asbestos?

Since asbestos fibers are microscopic, laboratory confirmation is generally required to determine if something contains asbestos. Asbestos was widely used in home building materials and industrial facilities from around the 1920s to 1990. If you’re unsure of a surface or material in your home that was built before 1990, the best practice is to assume it contains asbestos and have a professional laboratory test the material before you begin construction and disturb the material.

If you were to look at asbestos under a microscope, what you would see depends on the type of asbestos. Chrysotile asbestos, the one most typically found in buildings, is fibrous and curly. Crocidolite asbestos would be varying shades of blue under a microscope. Its fibers are sharp.

If you know when an item was built, you can determine if there’s a risk of asbestos. Knowing the maker or builder of an item can also help you determine the risk of asbestos. It’s important to identify asbestos before disturbing it, as it is a known carcinogen and should only be removed by professionals.

Materials in your home that might include asbestos could be found in your floors, pipes and plumbing, kitchens and bathrooms, roofs, paint or plaster in the walls and ceiling, fences, and sheds. If it’s been there since before 1990, you need to have it tested for asbestos before remodeling or removing it.

Why is Asbestos a Problem?

When airborne, asbestos fibers are breathed into the lungs. Asbestos exposure can cause diseases like asbestosis and mesothelioma. Mesothelioma is cancer that is most commonly caused by asbestos exposure. Mesothelioma can appear as pleural mesothelioma (in the lungs) or peritoneal mesothelioma (in the abdomen). How long it takes to develop an asbestos-related disease (the latency period) can range anywhere from 13 to 70 years. 

Symptoms of pleural mesothelioma include coughing, chest pain, or shortness of breath. Peritoneal mesothelioma may cause a swollen abdomen, nausea, fatigue, or weight loss. A doctor may diagnose mesothelioma using scans like an x-ray or CT scan and possibly a biopsy of the site. Treating mesothelioma may include chemotherapy, radiation, or surgery.

Family members of those who worked occupationally around asbestos fibers may have been exposed to asbestos second-hand. A worker may have brought asbestos fibers home from a job site clinging onto their clothing and were washed by family members at home. Family may also be eligible for compensation if they develop an asbestos-related disease like mesothelioma. Contact The Lanier Law Firm for more information.


How is Asbestos Removed?

Two types of asbestos professionals are involved in removal: asbestos inspectors and asbestos contractors. Asbestos inspectors are licensed to examine a building, collect samples for laboratory confirmation, and advise on when asbestos should be removed. An asbestos inspector can also visit the site once removal has occurred to ensure the work and clean-up were done properly and can test the air to determine the level of asbestos in the air.

Once you have confirmation that a material contains asbestos, there are generally two ways to deal with it. If the asbestos is encapsulated, meaning it will not be disturbed and become airborne, you may not need to have it removed. Encapsulation means that the area with asbestos fibers is sealed or completely closed off. 

During home remodeling, a certified asbestos contractor should be hired to remove asbestos-containing materials. Regular dust masks are not enough protection since asbestos fibers are so small. Trained professionals will seal off portions of your house and treat it as hazardous. Asbestos contractors are equipped with special protective equipment. 

Some guidelines must be followed to remove asbestos and dispose of any materials containing asbestos. Asbestos-containing material should be removed in large sections as smaller pieces may make the asbestos airborne. Contractors may also wet the area before removal to reduce the amount of asbestos released into the air.

Your state may have reporting requirements for encapsulating, repairing, or removing asbestos. It’s important to check what obligations you have from your state as there may be penalties for the improper removal and disposal of asbestos (and it also may be hazardous to your health).

Why You Should Call The Lanier Law Firm

If you were exposed to asbestos and have been diagnosed with an asbestos-related disease like mesothelioma or asbestosis, you may be eligible for compensation from the companies that manufactured asbestos-containing products. The Lanier Law Firm is one of the most successful litigation firms representing mesothelioma victims. Our experienced lawyers routinely stand up to large corporations that knew their products were hazardous. Please contact us for a free consultation today.

Contact Our Firm

Schedule a FREE Consultation

By submitting this form, you agree to our terms & conditions. Please read full disclaimer here.