Sounds dangerous, doesn't it? The truth is that there is a particularly good chance we have all been exposed to asbestos at some point in our lives. It is found in rocks and soil, and it also finds its way into the water and air. But this type of exposure is so low, it is unlikely to make you sick.
The use of asbestos has been controlled by the federal government since the 1970's, so it is no longer mined or processed in the United States. It was a mainstay in construction for over a century, so practically any home built before 1980 has a particularly good chance of having some material containing asbestos. By nature, it is resistant to heat, chemicals, and corrosion, which makes it perfect for use in siding, insulation, shingles, floor tiles, and even adhesives. Even popcorn ceilings from this era can contain asbestos.
Gaining a good general knowledge about asbestos and identifying it is part of the long list of training courses required to become a home inspector. Recently I have inspected several homes built in the 50's and 60's, where I came across several items containing asbestos. Considering this, I decided to take a bit of a closer look into asbestos and include it in my Inspector’s Blog. It helps me to be better prepared as I continue my home inspections, and it gives my clients more confidence in me and my services.
Where is the Danger?
Asbestos is composed of a group of 6 natural occurring minerals composed of soft flexible fibers. This makes the material useful, but it also makes the product highly toxic. Whether materials containing asbestos are used for insulating a radiator pipe, contained in floor tiles, or over your head in a popcorn ceiling, they can be harmless in their current state. Disturbing or breaking up these items causing the fibers to be released into the air is where the problem lies.
Once asbestos fibers become airborne, they can pose a danger to anyone that inhales the toxic dust. No amount of asbestos is considered safe; however, most health issues involving asbestos are the result of years of exposure to asbestos fibers. But the hazards are there, and most asbestos related illnesses are not even diagnosed until at least 15 years after exposure.
So, my home has asbestos, now what?
The first step would be to have it tested to confirm that it is indeed asbestos. Some materials appear similar, and sometimes the only way to know is to have it tested. This will require an asbestos abatement specialist to take samples to determine exactly what the material is composed of. If the tests confirm that it is indeed asbestos, there are a couple of options available.
The first option is to just leave it alone. The presence of asbestos in your home, as it is, is typically not harmful. In addition to leaving it alone, you may also have it encapsulated. This will ensure that it is not exposed to possible damage, which can release the fibers into the air. The abatement specialist can help determine if this is a viable option. We know that floor tile can be tiled over, popcorn ceilings can be covered, and insulated pipes can be wrapped or coated with a special material.
Another option would be to have it completely removed from the property. This could be a large-scale operation, considering the amount of asbestos that is found. If you are currently occupying the home, you will need to leave the premises while the removal is being done. Again, an asbestos specialist can help to guide you on the best options to follow.
Not a DIY Project
One thing to keep in mind, removing asbestos is not a do-it-yourself project. Not only could you expose yourself and your loved ones to asbestos fibers, but there are also laws and regulations regarding asbestos removal. Disposal of asbestos requires professionals that are not only trained but licensed as well. Fines in the hundreds of thousands of dollars have been levied against those that have not followed the proper procedures.
Unsure what you may have in your home? There are several resources you can find online, and a good place to start is with www.asbestos.com. I pulled some of this information from this site, and you will find a good bit of resources there as well. You will also find information there regarding mesothelioma, treatments, and legal advice.
Knowledge is always a good thing. Be aware and stay safe.