Asbestos has been under attack as a material in various products since the 1970s. That doesn’t mean that it has been eradicated from homes, products and work places. It still exists, which means you need to evaluate your risk to exposure and the horrific health results that can occur.
Asbestos is actually a fairly amazing material. It is fibrous form of a number of minerals and has an astounding trait. It is naturally fire resistant. Actually, that is a bit of an understatement. It is perhaps the single most fire resistant naturally occurring fiber in the world. Given this trait, it has been used in products ranging from the tiles on ceilings in schools to the brake pads on your car. If there is a heat element or fire concern to something, asbestos was probably used at one point or another to deal with it.
Ah, but asbestos is banned now, right? Yes and no. It has been banned in many applications since the late 1980s and cannot be used in new applications. Anything that falls between these two areas, however, is fair game. Moreover, asbestos often still is found in applications that were created well before the ban took place such as commercial buildings.
We are all exposed to asbestos all the time. Only a very unlucky few have any problems from the exposure. The bigger risk is with repeated exposure such as when a person works with asbestos or lives in contact with it when perhaps they don’t realize it. The attack on the Twin Towers was a horrific act, but the problems were multiplied when it was realized that the North Tower had tons of asbestos used in its building materials. This created a massive, intense exposure problem. Rescue workers and clean up crews almost immediately started suffering breathing problems and will not need to be looked at closely for the rest of their lives.
For the rest of us, exposure issues come down to working with the product or living with it. Your employer should alert you to any asbestos use in the work place. As far as living with it goes, the issue is one of knowing the age of your building and paying attention to notices indicating asbestos is or may be present. Such notices are required by law.
Asbestos exposure is a very serious issue to be considered. That being said, the chances of being confronted with repeated asbestos exposure without any public notices being given is very rare. Of course, you need to pay attention to those notices.