What happens to asbestos when it enters the environment?
Asbestos fibers do not evaporate into air or dissolve in water. However, pieces of fibers can enter the air and water from the weathering of natural deposits and the wearing down of manufactured asbestos products. Small diameter fibers and fiber-containing particles may remain suspended in the air for a long time and be carried long distances by wind or water currents before settling. Larger diameter fibers and particles tend to settle more quickly.
Asbestos fibers are not able to move through soil. They are generally not broken down to other compounds in the environment and will remain virtually unchanged over long periods. However, the most common form of asbestos, chrysotile, may have some minor mineral loss in acidic environments. Asbestos fibers may break into shorter pieces or separate into a larger number of individual fibers as a result of physical processes.
When asbestos fibers are breathed in, they may get trapped in the lungs. Levels of fibers in lung tissue build up over time, but some fibers, particularly chrysotile fibers, can be removed from or degraded in the lung with time.
This information is provided courtesy of the ATSDR Information Center.