Asbestos and Farming and the Risk of Harm
Asbestos and farming is not what comes to most people’s minds. Especially today when local small-scale farms are seen as the most pure and natural way to grow food. Keep in mind that asbestos is natural, too. It’s a natural mineral that lies deep in the earth. And that’s where it should stay. But unfortunately a lot of machinery, equipment and construction materials on farms may contain asbestos. And exposure to asbestos can kill.
How Asbestos and Farming Becomes Dangerous
Asbestos becomes dangerous when it is airborne. If asbestos in farming equipment or an old building gets disturbed, asbestos fibers may be released. Old and brittle asbestos that crumbles into dust produces airborne microscopic fibers. You can’t see them and may breathe them in when you inhale. Trapped in your lungs, asbestos particles can trigger fatal lung diseases.
How to Recognize Asbestos
Typically, asbestos is hardened and fibrous. It’s usually light grey or off-white in color.
If you’re working with old insulation boards, roof sheeting or older vehicles, and see flaking or powdering where unpainted surfaces are worn, cracked or damaged, it might be asbestos.
But visual inspection is usually not sufficient to determine if a suspect material contains asbestos. Although the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) provides detailed guidance about how to safely collect samples that may contain asbestos, the American Lung Association recommends that you hire a certified asbestos professional to take any samples. Hiring a professional can minimize asbestos exposure for you and your family.
Where Asbestos May Lurk on Farms
You may find asbestos on your farm:
- as an insulating material around pipes or boilers, or in panels between wallboards
- as a friction pad in brake linings in old farm vehicles
- in corrugated sheeting material in a roof
- in products made from asbestos cement
How To Prevent Asbestos Exposure on Your Farm
Be careful when moving, sawing, drilling or breaking any structures which contain asbestos.
You can reduce the risk of releasing hazardous asbestos dust on your farm by:
- using hand tools instead of power tools
- making sure anyone working with questionable materials wears a face mask and disposable overalls
- avoiding the use of a bristle broom when cleaning up – it could spread asbestos fibers
If asbestos on your farm needs to be removed, transported or disposed of, call in the pros. Remember, no amount of asbestos exposure is safe. It’s not worth risking your life to try to do it yourself.