Asbestos in the Home: Are You at Risk?
Asbestos was hailed for its cost-effective, heat-resistant qualities and was used in many industrial and household products through the late 20th century. The naturally occurring mineral fiber was mined from rock and soil and could be woven into fabrics. It was used extensively for decades until it became apparent that the fibers were causing serious health issues in people with high rates of exposure.
In the late 1970s, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) took action and banned the material from some products. Asbestos can still be found in certain industrial materials today, thanks in part to a reversal of the EPA’s ruling in 1991.
Asbestos is also still found in many old buildings and homes. While undisturbed asbestos usually poses little threat to a person’s health, once the fibers go airborne and are inhaled, they can cause life-threatening illnesses.
Why is asbestos dangerous?
Asbestos is dangerous when inhaled because the fibers can stay in the lungs for long periods of time and cause serious lung diseases.
Asbestosis occurs when the lungs become scarred with fibrous tissue. People who get asbestosis are usually exposed to asbestos over long periods of time. Asbestosis puts a person at high risk for developing mesothelioma.
Mesothelioma is the most serious disease caused by asbestos exposure. It is a cancer of the lining of the chest and abdominal cavity. The risk of lung cancer and mesothelioma increases with the number of fibers inhaled. The risk is also greater if you smoke.
Asbestos in the home: is your family at risk?
Asbestos was used in many different aspects of home construction between the 1940s and 1970s. Homes built before 1980 can have asbestos-containing materials throughout, but should homeowners be worried?
Older homes can contain asbestos
If you live in an older home (built before 1980), chances are there is asbestos in your home somewhere. The presence of asbestos isn’t necessarily a cause for alarm, however. Asbestos products are only dangerous if they are deteriorating, damaged or disturbed. When asbestos is disturbed, it releases fibers into the air which can be inhaled. This is when asbestos becomes dangerous.
Where is asbestos found?
Products used in home construction that contained asbestos include:
- Textured paint and patching components like plaster
- Vinyl floor tiles and some forms of linoleum
- Window caulking and glazing
- Glue that attaches floor tiles to concrete or wood
- Some roofing and siding shingles
- Blown-in attic insulation
- Duct insulation
- Hot water and steam pipes coating
- Walls and floors around wood-burning stoves
What do you do if your home contains asbestos?
If your home contains asbestos but the materials are in good condition, the best thing to do is to leave them alone. Asbestos becomes dangerous when the material is disturbed or begins to deteriorate and the fibers go airborne. If you suspect a material in your home contains asbestos, check regularly for tears, abrasions or water damage. Material that would crumble easily in your hands or that has been sawed, scraped or sanded into powder is also more likely to create a health hazard.
If you find damaged asbestos material in your home or if you’re planning to remodel, there are two types of corrections: repair and removal.
Repair or Remove? That is the question.
Whether you choose to repair an asbestos material or remove it completely, you should hire a highly trained, certified contractor to complete the correction.
Repairing usually involves sealing the asbestos material with a sealant or covering it with a wrap or jacket. Both sealing and covering prevent fibers from releasing into the air.
Repairs can be either major or minor. In general, any damaged area bigger the size of your hand is a major repair.
Repairing an asbestos problem is usually less costly than removing it, but can make later removal more difficult and expensive if it becomes necessary.
Removing asbestos material increases the risk of releasing fibers into the air and should only be done by a trained professional. Removal is usually the last option considered in most situations unless the material is damaged beyond repair or renovations make removal necessary.
Removing asbestos material is the most expensive method and improper removal can actually increase the health risk to you and your family. It is important to hire a qualified professional trained in the proper and safe removal of asbestos.
What should I keep in mind when correcting my asbestos problem?
There are many things to consider when repairing or removing asbestos from your home.
Always check with your local and state health departments, regional EPA office and the Occupational Health and Safety Administration’s regional office to find out what regulations are in place regarding proper asbestos removal and disposal.
These offices may have a list of local contractors who are trained in removing or repairing asbestos materials, as well.
Hire a trained professional
Because of the health risks asbestos poses, it is important to hire professionals who are trained in identifying damaged materials and removing or repairing them.
Asbestos Inspectors: Asbestos inspectors can safely take samples of materials and test whether or not they contains asbestos. The inspector can also describe the extent of the damage and give recommendations on how to correct it.
Corrective-Action Contractor: Corrective-Action Contractors repair or remove the asbestos materials from your home.
It is important to hire professionals who are experienced in safely handling, repairing or removing asbestos materials. Check with the Better Business Bureau before hiring a firm to see if it has had any safety violations or legal actions filed against it. Check credentials carefully, ask for references and get a cost estimate from several different firms.
Be on the lookout for misleading claims: unnecessary removals are a waste of money and improper removals pose a health risk for you and your family.
For more information on asbestos in your home, visit the Consumer Product Safety Commission website: http://www.cpsc.gov/en/Safety-Education/Safety-Guides/Home/Asbestos-In-The-Home/
Asbestos home page updated on April 26, 2016