The reasons for insulating high-temperature surfaces are endless, but the most important is that insulation minimizes expensive heat loss and reduces surface temperatures. High surface temps can cause safety risks, ranging from worker burns to potential fire hazards, over and above the high cost of energy loss. Proper insulation can help with these issues. Until the late 1970s, many types of insulation-from open cell sponge wrap to hi-temperature cement mix-contained asbestos, a product known for its resistance to heat and insulating properties.
Asbestos insulation came in all types from a variety of manufacturers with a number of intended uses. While asbestos insulation materials were phased out by the end of the 1970s, there is unmarked asbestos insulation in older homes and buildings that have not been disturbed since installation. For insulators, plumbers or anyone that maintains hi-temperature equipment, there is a high risk for asbestos exposure during insulation maintenance and removal, especially if old insulation is not marked as containing asbestos.
Due to the variety of requirements for insulation and ductwork, it should be assumed that insulation contains asbestos until tests prove otherwise.
As new generations of maintenance workers and construction crews enter the workforce, the same specter of asbestos looms in the insulation installed decades ago. New workers are at an advantage, information about asbestos diseases like mesothelioma, asbestos lung cancer, and asbestosis is much easier to access. Unfortunately, some employers of jobs with high risk for asbestos exposure are not promoting worker safety and are violating OSHA’s asbestos safety standards.
Insulators and pipefitters that installed the original asbestos-containing insulation without respiratory protection are at the greatest risk for developing asbestos diseases. It is not uncommon for asbestos-related diseases to have a latency period in the range of 30-40 years from initial exposure. For those that are experiencing breathing difficulties or have been diagnosed with an asbestos-related disease, a consultation with an asbestos attorney will explain your rights and offer legal solutions specific to your situation.