Asbestos was used for many years as an effective insulating or sound dampening material. Examples of materials used included:
- Thermal insulation - found in many school, commercial and industrial heating and piping systems.
- Electrical insulation - for electrical wiring and resistance heating appliances
- Sound absorbing material - particularly in school auditoriums and classrooms and office buildings
- Fireproofing - most pre-1975 building codes required asbestos fireproofing on metal frame, multistory buildings
- Decorative material - as light colored, fluffy ceiling surface
- Additive to increase the tensile strength of building materials - used in most floor tiles, roofing fabrics, and "transite" sheets and piping.
- Brake and clutch pad material
Thirty million tons of asbestos building materials have been used in the U.S. between 1900 and 1975. It would be a reasonable assumption, based on population, that one to two percent of this was used in Oklahoma, or between 300,000 to 600,000 tons. Eighty to ninety percent of this asbestos is probably still in place.
Asbestos became increasingly associated with adverse health effects, such as:
- Asbestosis (a scarring of the lungs, leading to disability and eventual death)
- Lung cancer
- Mesothelioma (cancer of the lining of lungs and abdomen, usually fatal).
Asbestos is now recognized by federal OSHA, the National Institute for Occupational Safety & Health (NIOSH), the National Toxicology Program, and the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) as a known human carcinogen.
Beginning in the early 1980's there has been considerable effort and expense to remove asbestos building materials from structures, especially from schools and other public buildings. The asbestos removal is primarily in the form of building interior demolition, which can create large quantities of asbestos dust.
Because asbestos is a lung hazard and only adversely effects people when inhaled, asbestos removal has been closely regulated by Oklahoma and most other states, and by the federal government through OSHA and EPA regulations. The principal agency for asbestos regulation in Oklahoma is the Oklahoma Department of Labor.