22 Asbestos Safety Manual Environmental Health and Safety I. Asbestos Exposure Risk Perspective Background Asbestos Levels Since asbestos has been used in over 3000 commercial products, it has been documented that very small amounts of fiber are present in the atmosphere inside and outside buildings in almost every part of the country. In addition, natural sources of asbestos mineral also contribute a measurable level of fiber to the general environment. At Iowa State University (ISU), ambient airborne fiber levels sampled within buildings on campus have always been below the detection limits of the approved analytical method used to measure airborne asbestos fiber concentrations. This has been consistent with measurements reported by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) from buildings across the country. Any exposure experienced at these levels is unlikely to produce an increased risk of asbestos health-related problems. EPA’s Five Facts Regarding Asbestos Much of the information concerning the health risks of asbestos exposure have been derived from studies of groups that had relatively high occupational exposure. The EPA released a list of five facts intended to put the exposure risk into perspective: FACT ONE Although asbestos is hazardous, the risk of asbestos-related disease depends upon the exposure to airborne asbestos fibers. An individual must breathe asbestos fibers in order to incur any chance of developing an asbestos related disease. At very low levels, the risk may be negligible or zero. FACT TWO Based on available data, the average airborne asbestos levels in buildings seem to be very low Accordingly, the health risks to occupants also appears to be very low. Ambient fiber sampling conducted in ISU campus buildings show fiber levels to be extremely low or nonexistent. In fact, EPA surveys of federal buildings showed indoor fiber levels to be approximately the same as levels outside. The average building occupant appears to face very low or no health risks. FACT THREE Removal is often not a building owner’s best course of action to reduce asbestos exposure In fact, an improper removal can create a dangerous situation where none previously existed. Asbestos removals tend to elevate airborne asbestos fiber levels. Unless properly conducted, a removal operation may actually increase rather than decrease the risk of asbestos-related disease.