Asbestos is mineral fiber that occurs naturally in some rock formations. It resists heat, fire and acid. Because of these properties, asbestos has been used in a wide range of manufactured goods, including insulation, roofing shingles, ceiling and floor tiles and more. Between the 1920s and the early 1970s, millions of tons of mined and refined asbestos were used in the construction of homes, schools and public buildings in the United States, mainly for insulation and fireproofing.
Dangers of asbestos dust
Asbestos does not pose health risks unless it deteriorates and becomes crumbly, when it can release microscopic asbestos fibers into the air. Asbestos fibers may also become airborne during repair or renovation of asbestos-containing structures. When asbestos fibers are inhaled, they can cause
chronic health problems to the lungs, throat and gastrointestinal tract, including a rare type of chest
cancer (called mesothelioma) that can occur as long as five decades after asbestos exposure. Rarely, asbestos exposure can occurs when drinking water travels through deteriorating asbestos-containing concrete pipes.
Today, schools are mandated by law to either remove asbestos or otherwise ensure that children are not exposed to it. However, it is still in some older homes, especially as insulation around pipes, stoves, and furnaces, as well as in walls and ceilings.
Locations in homes where asbestos may be
Insulation around hot water pipes, stoves, and furnaces (these are the most common places in the home where asbestos may be found)
Insulation in walls and ceilings, such as sprayed-on or troweled-on material or vermiculite attic insulation.
Patching and spackling compounds and textured paint
Roofing shingles and siding
Older appliances, such as washers and dryers
Vinyl floor tiles and the backing on vinyl sheet flooring and adhesives
Determining whether your home contains asbestos
Evaluate appliances and other consumer products by examining the label or the invoices to obtain the product name, model number and year of manufacture. If this information is available, the manufacturer can supply information about asbestos content.
Evaluate building materials. A professional asbestos manager with qualifications similar to those of managers employed in school districts may be hired. This person can inspect your home to determine whether asbestos is present and give advice on its proper management.
Test for asbestos. State and local health departments as well as
regional EPA offices have lists of individuals and laboratories certified to analyze a home for asbestos and test samples for the presence of asbestos.
What to do if asbestos is found in your home
In most cases, asbestos-containing materials in a home are best left alone. If materials such as insulation, tiling, and flooring are in good condition and out of the reach of children, there is no need to worry. However, if materials containing asbestos are deteriorating or if you are planning
renovations and the materials will be disturbed, precautions are recommended. It is best to find out whether the materials contain asbestos before renovations begin and, if necessary, have the materials properly removed.
Improper removal of asbestos may cause serious contamination by spreading fibers throughout the area. Any asbestos removal in a home must be performed by properly accredited and certified contractors. Children should not be allowed to play in areas where there are asbestos-containing materials.
You can get a listing of certified contractors in your area from state or local health departments or from the regional office of the EPA. Many contractors who advertise themselves as asbestos experts have not been trained properly. Only contractors who have been certified by the EPA or by a state-approved training school should be hired. The contractor should provide written proof of up-to-date certification.