Asbestos is a naturally-occurring thread-like mineral made of silica, the same material found in sand and glass.  It has been used by humans for more than 4000 years, with knowledge of its health dangers becoming widely known only in the last 100 years.  Asbestos is not a rare mineral, and has been mined all over the world, including in Eastern Canada.  A variant of asbestos called “Mountain Leather” is found naturally in Maine and New Hampshire. (–

Asbestos is a wonderful heat insulator, and has been used widely in home construction, as electrical insulators, in flame retardants, and as a sound absorbers.

Unfortunately, the extremely fine fibers that make up asbestos rock are quite damaging to human tissue, particularly when inhaled.  Many cancers including lung cancer and mesothelioma may result.

Sources of Asbestos:

In the USA, asbestos was largely phased out of production in the 1980s and 1990s, though it is still in use in other countries, including Canada, where it remains a cheap and effective raw material.  In the USA, asbestos may show up legally in items like the following: vinyl sheet flooring; vinyl floor tiles; asphalt floor tiles; flooring backing; roofing shingles; cement wallboard; acoustical plaster; decorative plaster; boiler insulation; electrical wiring insulation; electrical panel partitions; caulking; spackling; adhesives; chalkboards; cement siding; cement pipes; heating and electrical ducts; fire blankets; fire doors; high temperature gaskets; elevator brake shoes; elevator equipment panels; ceiling tiles; electrical cloth; and thermal paper products (

Health Limits:

Not regulated in drinking water.

Asbestos exposure in the workplace is regulated by OSHA in the USA: OSHA’s “Asbestos” Section (website)

US EPA regulatory information on “Asbestos” for exposure during demolition…

Additional Resources:

Wikipedia: “Asbestos” (website)

Toxic Substances Portal: “Asbestos” (website) and ToxFAQ Fact Sheet (pdf)

National Cancer Institute: “Asbestos Exposure and Cancer Risk” (website)

“Asbestos in Drinking Water” – Government of Western Australia Department of Health (website)

“Asbestos” at, the minerals/mining database (website)

Testing for Asbestos:

MEL contracts with another lab to test for asbestos.

Sample Requirements:

Baggie of material is sufficient.  If the material is floor mat/tile with glue substrate, separate samples of the flooring and adhesive must be provided.


Asbestos from Italy. (

Mine d'Asbestos

Open-Pit Asbestos Mine in Asbestos, Quebec

Asbestos slippers, Musee Mineralogique et Minier de Thetford Mines

Asbestos slippers, Musee Mineralogique et Minier de Thetford Mines, Canada