No Known Safe Level
In 2009, the Surgeon General issued a statement that there was no safe level of asbestos exposure. This statement agreed with many other reputable national and international health organizations which have reached the same conclusion. Likewise, the National Institute for Occupational Health and Safety, “NIOSH,” has also found that “all levels of asbestos exposure studied to date have demonstrated asbestos–related disease” and “there is no level of [asbestos] exposure below which clinical effects do not occur.”
Over many years, progressively lower limits and increased regulation of exposure to asbestos have reduced the risks of developing asbestos-related diseases. However, many workers, navy seamen, shipyard workers, and their families were exposed before these rules were enacted. The current permissible exposure limit (PEL) for asbestos set by OSHA for workers is no more than 0.1 fiber per cubic centimeter of air as an eight hour time-weighted average (TWA), but there is no known safe level of exposure to asbestos.
The vast majority of asbestos fibers cannot be detected without the aid of an optical or electron microscope. In some situations, millions of individual asbestos fibers can be present in the air yet remain invisible to the naked eye. Also, injury and disease are not evident until a certain amount of time, often many years, has passed since the initial exposure to asbestos. This concept is known as latency and is another reason why asbestos is such a hazardous and dangerous substance.
Asbestos Highly Regulated Today
Today asbestos is a highly regulated and controlled substance in the U.S. Various federal and state agencies are responsible for the safe handling of asbestos containing materials (ACM) at the jobsites, in public buildings or private residences and around former mines and factories. Asbestos abatement including removal and disposal or encapsulation to prevent fiber release is used to minimize the risks associated with asbestos. Attempts to ban asbestos completely in the U.S. have not succeeded to date.
If you think that you may have been exposed to asbestos, you should be sure to tell your doctor. People in high risk groups, such as those with known occupational exposure or take home exposure, should consult their physician and have regular physical exams.
Substances Profiles: Asbestos CAS No. 1332-21-4 in Report on Carcinogens, Eleventh Edition.
U.S. Department of Labor OSHA Regulations (Standards – 29 CFR) for Asbestos – 1910.1001.