Fiberglass

What is fiberglass?

Fiberglass is a silicate fiber made from very fine strands of glass. Today, it is primarily used for insulation in homes and buildings to replace asbestos. Unlike asbestos, fiberglass is a man-made material. Fiberglass has three main uses: 1) electrical insulation, 2) thermal and acoustic insulation and 3) heat resistance or light-weight materials.1 At one time, fiberglass was linked to cancer. However, the International Agency on Cancer Research (IACR) removed fiberglass from its “possibly carcinogenic to humans” list in 2001.

How does fiberglass affect your health?

Studies have shown inhaling these fibers can reduce lung function and cause inflammation in animals and humans.1 A study published in 2006 found that, independent of other environmental hazards and respiratory problems, fiberglass altered components of the lungs in men working in glass fiber-reinforced plastic processing.1 Fiberglass can cause skin, eye and throat irritation. At higher exposure levels, fiberglass also has been associated with skin rashes and difficulty in breathing.

Fiberglass emits a synthetic material called styrene, which is a possible carcinogenic according to the IACR and U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.2 At high levels, styrene can cause tiredness, concentration and balance problems, and irritation of the eyes, nose and throat. More information on the health effects of styrene can be found on the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR) website.

How can you reduce exposure to fiberglass?

Certain steps can reduce your exposure to fiberglass:

  • Use protective measures. If you work with fiberglass, wear goggles, gloves and a dust mask. This gear will protect your eyes and lungs and reduce the possibility of skin irritation.
  • Cover all exposed skin. Wear long-sleeved shirts and trousers to reduce skin irritation or inflammation.
  • Wash hands and face. Washing your hands and face thoroughly with soap and water can help prevent skin irritation and inflammation from fiberglass.

Citations:

  1. Abbate, Carmelo, et al., eds. Changes Induced by Exposure of the Human Lung to Glass Fiber Reinforced Plastics. Environmental Health Perspectives 114 (11), 2005: 1725-9.
  2. Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR). ToxFAQs for Styrene. Department of Health and Human Services. September 2007.