What are “safe levels” of asbestos exposure?
No level of asbestos exposure is known to be completely “safe,” however, minimizing your exposure to asbestos minimizes your risk for asbestos-related diseases. Low levels of asbestos can be found in the air from asbestos-containing rock formations, products that contain asbestos, locations that formerly mined or milled asbestos, and other asbestos-containing materials. Most individuals exposed to asbestos will not develop asbestos related diseases; however, it is not until you are exposed to more concentrated levels of asbestos that you are at significant risk.
The Occupation Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) has set a “permissible exposure limit” (PEL) for individuals who are exposed to asbestos in the workplace. The long-term PEL is set at 0.1 fibers per cubic centimeter of air (f/cc), averaged over an eight-hour shift. The short-term PEL (sometimes referred to as the “Excursion Level) is set at 1 f/cc, averaged over 30 minutes. These exposure levels can still be dangerous, but when combined with carefully regulated work practices, they are considered by the OSHA to be safe. The regulations for work practices change depending on what the risk for exposure is considered to be for a particular job.
There are certain jobs, particularly those involving asbestos repair or removal, in which the PEL is exceeded. In this case, precautions should be taken to ensure that workers are not exposed to dangerous levels of asbestos. When the PEL is exceeded, employers must regularly monitor workers for exposure. The interval at which workers must be monitored depends on the risk for exposure associated with the job. Employers must also establish regulated areas where eating, drinking, smoking, chewing tobacco or gum, or entering without authorization is prohibited. Additionally, employers must provide employees who work in areas with asbestos levels above the PEL with respirators, protective clothing, training, and medical examinations.
It should be noted that the OSHA PEL is not considered appropriate for individuals who are exposed to asbestos in their homes or surrounding environments, because the exposure time is longer than 8 hours per day, and because the OSHA PEL does not take into account the risk of exposure for children or the elderly. There is no safe level of asbestos dust in the home. If there are materials in your home which you suspect may contain asbestos and are damaged, deteriorating, or frequently disturbed, you should contact a trained asbestos professional immediately.
Midwest Environmental Control has over 30 years of experience in asbestos testing, removal, and disposal. Please contact MEC for your free estimate. (419) 382-9200