Asbestos vs. Fiberglass

Asbestos vs. Fiberglass

Asbestos vs. Fiberglass

Fiberglass is often mistaken for asbestos by homeowners and those working in the building trades. Both materials have a similar appearance and are used for many of the same purposes. However, there are several differences between the materials of which should be aware. Today, we are comparing Asbestos vs. Fiberglass!

What is Asbestos?

Asbestos is a group of six fibrous materials composed of fragile fibers that naturally grow in underground soil and can be manufactured into thousands of products and woven into cloth with excellent thermal insulation properties.

Asbestos is a commonly used thermal system insulator, reinforcement material, surfacing material, fireproofing material, floor tile material, pipework, and gasket making material. Asbestos can be used to create friction materials such as brake band linings.

What is Fiberglass?

Fiberglass is a form of fiber-reinforced plastic made up of long, thin fibers of glass, which can be transformed into a woven layer. An industrial manufacturing process for making glass fibers was first patented in Russia in 1840. In 1915, the Allied Forces blockaded Germany, creating an asbestos shortage, which resulted in the commercial production of Fiberglass in the U.S. as an asbestos substitute.  Fiberglass has many of the same characteristics as asbestos.

Fiberglass is non-conductive, which makes it an excellent material for insulation of electrical materials. Fiberglass is also used in making aircraft boats, automobiles, storage tanks, pipes, bathtubs, septic tanks, roofing, and cladding.

Similarities between Fiberglass and Asbestos

Asbestos and Fiberglass share common properties.

Like asbestos, fiberglass insulates, resists heat, and is strong, durable, and flexible.

Asbestos and Fiberglass in the Construction Industry

One of asbestos and fiberglass’s common uses is as insulation in buildings, ships, and aircraft. When the health risks associated with the use of asbestos became known, fiberglass was considered an acceptable substitute.

Asbestos and Fiberglass  May Cause Health Problems

The EPA has confirmed that exposure to asbestos can cause lung cancer and mesothelioma. When asbestos fibers are inhaled, they can cause problems like chronic lung diseases such as asbestosis. Lung tissue becomes scarred over time, impairing breathing and raising the risk of cancer. Asbestos exposure can lead to the development of lung cancer or cause another aggressive cancer that attacks the lungs and abdomen called mesothelioma.

Fiberglass has been found to be a possible carcinogenic. The International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC), of the World Health Organization listed Fiberglass as a “probable [human] carcinogen” in 1987.

Asbestos and Fiberglass are Most Dangerous When Handled

When products with asbestos remain intact, they don’t pose an immediate risk. Asbestos is at its most dangerous when fibers become airborne and are inhaled.

The same is true of fiberglass products. Fiberglass irritates when it comes in contact with the skin and eyes. When Fiberglass is disturbed, especially during installation or removal, the glass fibers become part of airborne dust that settles on surfaces.

Differences between Fiberglass and Asbestos

Asbestos is naturally occurring, while fiberglass is human-made. Asbestos has always been naturally present in some soils and rocks. Fiberglass began being commercially synthesized from glass silica compounds in the 1930s. Both substances have thin fibers, but one is human-made.

The adverse effects of inhaling or ingesting asbestos can take years to experience. The cancer consequences of asbestos exposure don’t usually appear until long after the fibers are inhaled into the lungs. That could be at least ten years or more before asbestosis occurs or several decades before cancer symptoms emerge.

However, fiberglass irritates when it comes into contact with the eyes and skin. Fiberglass causes inflammation of the skin or irritant contact dermatitis. Inhaling fiberglass also causes breathing difficulties that can be experienced almost instantly.


New Uses of Asbestos have been banned, but not Fiberglass

While both asbestos and fiberglass are considered dangerous, asbestos is more dangerous. Since 1977, the U.S. has been banned all new uses of Asbestos, but fiberglass has not been banned.

Asbestos has higher heat resistance and tensile strength properties when compared to fiberglass. Fiberglass is more temperature resistant than polyamide and cotton, but it isn’t comparable to asbestos in this regard. However, it offers better tensile strength and continuous operation under high temperatures than asbestos.

Is Fiberglass the new Asbestos?

Companies knew the health risks of asbestos as early as the 1940s. Asbestos manufacturing companies and companies that were heavy users of asbestos materials denied and turned a blind eye to the long-term health consequences to employees and the general public that came in contact with asbestos. Many people have died due to asbestos- related diseases yet asbestos has not been completely banned from use.

While asbestos is a naturally occurring mineral and fiberglass is a human-made material, they are both silicates.  Exposure to dust from silica has been proven to result in respiratory issues, but currently there is no evidence that fiberglass causes cancer.

If you suffer from lung disease or have been diagnosed with lung cancer, you owe it to yourself to find out about your rights and any compensation that may be available to you by consulting with GPW Law today!


Sagar Khillar, “Difference Between Asbestos and Fiberglass” Difference Between, (July 14, 2020) [link]
“Asbestos Exposure and Cancer Risk” US National Cancer Institute, (2009) [link]
Peter Montague, “A Carcinogen That’s Everywhere” Environmental Research Foundation, (May 31, 1995) [link]

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