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Asbestos dust is dust which includes fragmented particles of asbestos. It is considered hazardous because inhalation of asbestos fibers can cause lung problems, including the development of mesothelioma, a form of lung cancer. Concerns about the safety of asbestos have led to very tough regulations on the processing and safe disposal of asbestos, in part to reduce the risk of creating asbestos dust.
Historically, asbestos was used in a number of building materials, especially materials which were designed to provide fire resistance. Popcorn ceilings, certain types of floor tiles, insulation, and some finishes can all potentially contain asbestos, and it was used in a number of other products as well. As long as asbestos-containing materials are inert, they are not dangerous, but once they are damaged or breached, they release asbestos dust, and people can inhale the asbestos.
Once the health risks of asbestos were realized, asbestos was no longer allowed in building materials, and laws were put in place to cope with structures built with asbestos-containing materials. When such structures are remodeled, the asbestos must be removed carefully, and the same holds true when structures are demolished, so that asbestos dust cannot be released into the environment. Asbestos testing is available to determine whether or not a structure contains asbestos, and specialized firms can clean up asbestos-containing materials to render a building safe for use.
Asbestos dust may look like ordinary dust, or it may be fibrous in nature if the particles of asbestos are larger. It causes skin irritation because the fibers in the asbestos can dig into the skin, and if inhaled, it can damage the mouth, trachea, and lungs. People working in environments where asbestos dust may be present usually wear face protection to avoid inhaling it, and they wear protective clothing as well. When people are engaging in asbestos abatement to remove asbestos, they wear full-coverage disposable garments which are discarded after the abatement is over.
There can be a long lag time between asbestos exposure and the development of symptoms, which has become a serious problem in the world of liability claims, because sick patients may have difficulty proving that their illnesses were caused by exposure to asbestos or asbestos dust. People who know that they have been exposed to asbestos dust should keep a close eye on their respiratory health, and mention the exposure to their doctors so that it is recorded in their medical charts for future reference.