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Top 5 Places You Will Encounter Asbestos in the Workplace

By Michelle Whitmer
Published: June 15, 2016
Key Takeaways

5 common items containing asbestos.

Source: MatthewCarroll/

There is a widespread assumption that asbestos is banned in the United States, but it isn’t. Only six asbestos-containing products are banned. This means today’s labor workers remain at risk of asbestos exposure even if they are using new materials.

People who work on older homes and buildings are particularly at risk of asbestos exposure due to deteriorating asbestos products. As these products age, they become more likely to break and release asbestos-containing dust.

Any structure built prior to the 1990s is highly likely to contain deteriorating asbestos materials. To protect yourself from exposure, it is important to know what kind of materials are likely to harbour asbestos.


There is no way to tell through sight alone if a material contains asbestos. Laboratory testing is necessary. As a result, workers are advised to assume a suspect product is contaminated and proceed with caution.

Licensed asbestos abatement workers are the only professionals with the training and credentials to safely handle and abate asbestos products. If you suspect a product in your workplace contains asbestos, report it to a superior so they can follow the laws and regulations around asbestos abatement.

Because asbestos may appear in many places throughout a workplace, it is better to know the most common asbestos-containing products. Insulation, flooring, cement, gaskets and automobile parts are among the most common.

1. Insulation

No product is more strongly associated with asbestos exposure than insulation. Asbestos is incredibly resistant to heat, lightweight and flexible — characteristics that made it the most popular insulating material throughout the 20th century.

The most common types of asbestos insulation include:

  • Attic or loose-fill insulation
  • Wall insulation
  • Block insulation
  • Pipe insulation
  • Spray-applied insulation
  • Valve jackets

Other types of asbestos insulation include plaster, cement, blankets, cloth and paper products. Spray-applied and pipe insulation is banned, but other insulating materials may legally contain asbestos.

Workers at risk of exposure include insulators, electricians, plumbers, pipefitters, home repairmen, drywall workers and construction workers.

2. Flooring

Asbestos was mixed into vinyl sheet flooring and vinyl asbestos tile for strengthening and insulating purposes. These vinyl materials were durable, affordable and widely used in homes, schools, workplaces and public buildings.

The use of asbestos in vinyl products remains legal in floor tile and wallpaper.


The backing used to adhere tiles, often called flooring felt, also contained asbestos. This cushioning material is resistant to temperature changes, humidity, water and reactive chemicals. This asbestos product was banned by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) in 1993.

3. Cement

Asbestos was mixed into cement products as a strengthening and insulating agent. The most common cement products that contain asbestos include:

  • Asbestos cement block
  • Piping
  • Water tanks
  • Asbestos sheets

Asbestos cement was added to plumbing and sewer pipes primarily for durability. Older water tanks were made entirely of asbestos cement. Boilers have contained asbestos cement as lining in and around the stove. The use of asbestos in water tanks and boilers is banned, but asbestos piping remains legal.

Asbestos sheets were made of this cement and used as roofing or siding. Asbestos flat sheet was made of asbestos cement and used to create interior walls and ceilings, much like drywall. Corrugated sheets are used as roofing or siding for fire protection and structural integrity. Use of asbestos in cement flat sheet, corrugated sheets and shingles remains legal in the U.S.

People who work jobs in construction, demolition, renovation and maintenance are likely to encounter asbestos cement in the workplace.

4. Gaskets

Gaskets are used to seal junctions between surfaces. They are found in engines, ships, pipes and boilers. Gaskets are common in workplaces such as power plants, oil refineries, chemical plants, factories and construction sites.

Three types of gaskets were made with asbestos, including sheet gaskets, spiral-wound gaskets and metal-jacketed gaskets. Sheet gaskets contained the greatest concentration of asbestos, around 70 percent. Asbestos was used as filler in spiral-wound and metal-jacketed gaskets.

When gaskets are replaced or repaired asbestos-contaminated dust is easily released. Workers at risk of exposure include shipyard workers, automobile manufacturers and repairmen, factory workers, plumbers and power plant workers.

The use of asbestos is not banned in gaskets.

5. Automobile Parts

Several different automobile parts are made with asbestos to prevent fire, reduce friction and increase durability. The following parts are known to contain asbestos:

  • Brakes
  • Clutches
  • Hoodliners
  • Heat seals, gaskets, valve rings and packing

Automobile repairmen face the greatest risk of exposure to these parts. The EPA recommends treating all brake and clutch components as if they contain asbestos. They also recommend usage of a HEPA-filter vacuum system and the wet method to prevent spread of asbestos-contaminated dust.

People who change their own brakes are also at risk, especially if they do not have proper safety equipment and fail to follow dust-reducing protocols.

Whether you are a professional labor worker or a do-it-yourselfer, knowing which materials are likely to contain asbestos will help you avoid exposure. Take the time and effort to exert caution. It is necessary to prevent asbestos-related disease including mesothelioma, lung cancer and asbestosis.


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Written by Michelle Whitmer

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Michelle Whitmer has been a medical writer and editor for The Mesothelioma Center since 2008. Focused on the benefits of natural and integrative medicine for cancer patients, Michelle is a certified yoga instructor and earned her B.A. in Environmental Studies from Rollins College in Florida. Michelle is a writer and editor with more than 10 years of experience covering science, medicine, cancer, travel, Florida tourism and environmental issues.
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