What is Fiber Glass?
Fiberglass is a silicate fiber made from very fine strands of glass.
Fiberglass is a substance made when small glass particles are extruded into thin strands of material used to reinforce polymer products or as insulation. Fiberglas, invented in 1938 by Russell Games Slayter for Owens-Corning, is the typical referent when the generic term “fiberglass” is used, and it is well known across America as the pink, fluffy material resembling cotton candy that is used as insulation in 90 percent of buildings in the country. (Thomasnet)
There are three main types of fiberglass. Each type has different physical dimensions and properties which effect the suitability for specific applications and may also impact human health in different ways. These types are continuous fibers (used in electrical insulation, cement and plastics reinforcement), insulation wool (for thermal and acoustic insulation), and special purpose fibers (used for heat resistance and light-weight materials). (Einstein)
It is a synthetic material primarily made of silica, a type of silicon oxide polymer that does not have a melting point and has long been used for its hardness properties. Silica is commonly in sand or quartz, and is used to create many types of glass, including window glass, drinking glasses and optical fibers. There are various types of fiberglass, distinguished by their chemical makeup, including:
• E-CR glass
How is Fiber Glass Used?
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. Today, it is primarily used for insulation in homes and buildings to replace asbestos. (ALA)
Different resins may then be added to fiberglass once it is woven together to give it added strength, as well as allow it to be molded into various shapes. Common items made of fiberglass include swimming pools and spas, doors, surfboards, sporting equipment, boat hulls and a wide array of exterior automobile parts. The light yet durable nature of fiberglass also makes it ideal for more delicate applications, such as in circuit boards.
Fiberglass may be mass-produced in mats or sheets or custom-made for a specific purpose. A new bumper or fender on an automobile, for example, may need to be custom-made to replace a damaged area, or for the production of a new model. For this, one would create a form in the desired shape out of foam or some other material, then layer a fiberglass coated in resin over it. The fiberglass will harden, then can be reinforced with more layers, or reinforced from within. But, for items like shingles, a massive sheet of a fiberglass and resin compound may be manufactured and cut by machine. (Composite)
Fiberglass reinforcement is an all-purpose choice for your composite project. Fiberglass is the most widely used reinforcement and generally is the least expensive. Fiberglass fabric has been used since the 1950's, and much is know about its properties. It is relatively lightweight, has moderate tensile and compressive strength, is tolerant of both damage and cyclical loading, and is easy to handle and machine. (Fibreglast)
Affect on Health
Direct contact with fiberglass or with airborne dust containing fiberglass may irritate the skin, eyes, nose, and throat. High levels of exposure to airborne fiberglass may aggravate asthma or bronchitis. Long-term health effects associated with fiberglass are not completely known. However, studies of people routinely working with fiberglass have not shown increased risk of long-term health conditions, such as respiratory disease, cancer, or allergic sensitization. (NYC.GOV)
The similarities to asbestos, which have allowed fiberglass to be so versatile, are also sources of concern for some who suggest that fiberglass may also exhibit similar deleterious health effects. (Einstein)
There have been many tests on the health side effects of fiberglass by government agencies and private labs, with varying results that don’t contribute to a general consensus about possible dangers fiberglass may pose. The only generally agreed upon fact is that fiberglass is an irritant, a fact immediately apparent when handling the pink insulation common in houses. Contact with insulation wool fiberglass can cause skin irritation such as redness and itchiness, as well as difficulty seeing and breathing. Generally, these irritations will subside once contact with fiberglass ceases. However, concerns persist that fiberglass may cause other, more serious problems. (Thomasnet)
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. (ALA)
As health concerns rose about asbestos throughout the 20th century, leading to its general banning and phasing out as insulation in many countries worldwide, fiberglass production steadily increased and its use replaced asbestos in many applications. Asbestos concerns centered around the particulate air contamination it led to, which caused lung diseases like asbestosis, lung cancer and others. However, with higher amounts of fiberglass insulation nationwide, there have also been higher concerns about possible health hazards. (Thomasnet)
How to Reduce Health Hazard
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. (ALA)
• Avoid directly touching or disturbing insulation or other materials that may contain fiberglass.
• To clean fiberglass dust and debris from surfaces, use wet mops and cloths, or a vacuum cleaner equipped with a HEPA filter. Do not dry sweep or perform other activities that may stir up dust.
• Wash hands thoroughly with soap and water after contact with fiberglass and avoid touching your eyes, nose, or mouth (NYC.GOV)
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"Fiberglass." Fiberglass. The New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene, n.d. Web. 06 Feb. 2014. <http://www.nyc.gov/html/doh/html/environmental/fiberglass.shtml>.
"Fiberglass." Fibre Glast. Fibre Glast Development Corp., n.d. Web. 06 Feb. 2014.
Johnson, Todd. "Fiberglass - What Is Fiberglass." About.com Composites / Plastics. About.com, n.d. Web. 04 Feb. 2014. <http://composite.about.com/od/fibers/a/Fiberglass-What-Is-Fiberglass.htm>.
"Safety and Health Concerns: Fiberglass." Thomasnet. Thomas Publishing Company, n.d. Web. 06 Feb. 2014. <http://www.thomasnet.com/articles/materials-handling/fiberglass-safety-health-concerns>.
Tubbs, Gregg. "Fiberglass." American Lung Association. American Lung Associaton, n.d. Web. 06 Feb. 2014. <http://www.lung.org/healthy-air/home/resources/fiberglass.html>.