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Asbestos is well recognized as a health hazard and its use is now highly regulated by both the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). Asbestos fibers associated with these health risks are too small to be seen with the naked eye. Breathing asbestos fibers can cause a buildup of scar-like tissue in the lungs and result in loss of lung function that often progresses to disability and death.

Worker exposure to asbestos hazards are addressed in specific OSHA standards for the construction industry, general industry and shipyard employment sectors. These standards reduce the risk to workers by requiring that employers provide personal exposure monitoring to assess the risk and hazard awareness training for operations where there is any potential exposure to asbestos.

Dangers of Exposure

There is no “safe” level of asbestos exposure for any type of asbestos fiber.

Every occupational exposure to asbestos contributes to the risk of getting an asbestos-related disease. Where there is exposure, employers are required to further protect workers by establishing regulated areas, controlling certain work practices, and instituting engineering controls to reduce airborne levels.

Employers are required to ensure exposure is reduced by using administrative controls and provide for the wearing of personal protective equipment. Medical monitoring of workers is also required when legal limits and exposure times are exceeded.

Why is Asbestos Hazardous?

Asbestos fibers are released into the air during activities that disturb asbestos-containing materials. The asbestos fibers can then be inhaled without knowing and trapped in the lungs. If swallowed, they can become embedded into the digestive tract as well. Asbestos is a known human carcinogen and can cause chronic lung diseases, and lung and other cancers. Symptoms and/or cancer may take many years to develop following exposure.

What Materials are Hazardous?

The hazard may occur during manufacturing of asbestos-containing products; performing brake or clutch repairs; renovating or demolishing buildings or ships; or cleanup from those activities; contact with deteriorating asbestos-containing materials and during cleanup after natural disasters.

Some materials are presumed to contain asbestos if installed before 1981. Examples of these materials, as well as other presumed asbestos-containing materials are:

  • Thermal system insulation
  • Roofing and siding shingles
  • Vinyl floor tiles and adhesives
  • Plaster, cement, putties, and caulk
  • Ceiling tiles and spray-on coatings
  • Industrial pipe wrapping
  • Heat-resistant textiles
  • Automobile brake linings and clutch pads

How to Avoid Exposure to Asbestos

There are some ways to treat and handle asbestos in a safe way, including:

  • Do not sand, saw, drill, chip, or any mechanical means on asbestos-containing material.
  • Use wet methods.
  • If asbestos-containing flooring material has sufficiently sealed, brushing or dry buffing is permissible.
  • If these methods are properly implemented, personal protective equipment (PPE) should not be necessary.

Asbestos Abatement

You are required to notify the Department of Inspections, Appeals, and Licensing (DIAL) as well as the Iowa Department of Natural Resources (DNR) of asbestos abatement.

DIAL's Division of Labor/OSHA staff administer Iowa’s asbestos licensing and permitting programs. Iowa OSHA enforces regulations designed to protect workers from asbestos. The Iowa DNR mitigates the release of asbestos, and limits access to the environment. A contractor must notify DIAL least 10 working days in advance of any asbestos abatement or removal project.

Iowa DNR now uses an online notification system you'll need to register and create an account in order to submit your notification.

Learn more about 10-day notification for asbestos abatement or removal.