Is Fiberglass the New Asbestos?

Asbestos is all over the news. Superstorm Sandy has exposed asbestos that was previously undisturbed in older homes on the east coast. Mesothelioma patients and their families are suing employers for asbestos exposure. We read tragic stories of accidental or inadvertent exposure to asbestos leading to illness and death and are concerned about our Navy veterans from World War II and later. But what if a material we have used to replace asbestos in many situations is just as dangerous?

According to Wikipedia:

“Fiberglass is a lightweight, extremely strong, and robust material. Although strength properties are somewhat lower than carbon fiber and it is less stiff, the material is typically far less brittle, and the raw materials are much less expensive. Its bulk strength and weight properties are also very favorable when compared to metals, and it can be easily formed using molding processes.”

Fiberglass has been in use since its discovery in 1932. It began to be used in aircraft manufacturing as early as World War II and started being used for car bodies and boats in the 1950’s. Although it is being taken over slowly by carbon fiber, many products make use of fiberglass today including:

  • Hot tubs
  • Piping for drinking water and sewers
  • Office plant display containers
  • Flat roof systems
  • In the telecommunications industry to make antennae fit into existing environments
  • Electrical insulators
  • Storage tanks
  • Door surrounds, window canopies and dormers, chimneys, coping systems and other residental construction items
  • Insulation
  • Surfboards
  • High end bicycles
  • Circuit boards
  • Wind Turbine Blades
  • Coils in MRI scanners
  • Re-enforcement of asphalt pavement, as a fabric or mesh interlayer

This is most definitely NOT a complete list of the uses of fiberglass.

Glass wool fibers are classified by the National Toxicology Program as “[r]easonably anticipated to be a human carcinogen.” Workers in fiberglass factories suffer from more lung cancer than other workers. Fiberglass may even be more carcinogenic than asbestos and the danger is exacerbated by the fact that fiberglass is literally everywhere. There are measurable levels of fiberglass particles in the air we all breathe.

It is reported that “over 30,000 products now contain fiberglass.” 90% of buildings today contain fiberglass insulation. But did you know that fiberglass can also be found in medications (tiny glass fibers aid in absorption by making tiny cuts in the stomach), toothpaste (as an abrasive) tobacco products (in filters to increase nicotine transfer), as well as many other products.

In the future, we may be facing fiberglass abatement the same way we face asbestos abatement today. Be aware of the dangers of fiberglass before working with it. We don’t want to be reading years from now that you have a fiberglass-related disease.

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