is a mineral fiber. It can be positively identified only with a special
type of microscope. There are several types of asbestos fibers. In the
past, asbestos was added to a variety of products to strengthen them and
to provide heat insulation and fire resistance.
How Can Asbestos Affect My Health?
studies of people who were exposed to asbestos in factories and shipyards,
we know that breathing high levels of asbestos fibers can lead to an
increased risk of:
lung cancer: --
mesothelioma, a cancer of the lining of the chest and the abdominal
-- asbestosis, in which the lungs become scarred with fibrous tissue.
The risk of lung cancer and
mesothelioma increases with the number of fibers inhaled. The risk of lung
cancer from inhaling asbestos fibers is also greater if you smoke. People
who get asbestosis have usually been exposed to high levels of asbestos
for a long time. The symptoms of these diseases do not usually appear
until about 20 to 30 years after the first exposure to asbestos.
Most people exposed to small
amounts of asbestos, as we all are in our daily lives, do not develop
these health problems. However, if disturbed, asbestos material may
release asbestos fibers, which can be inhaled into the lungs. The fibers
can remain there for a long time, increasing the risk of disease. Asbestos
material that would crumble easily if handled, or that has been sawed,
scraped, or sanded into a powder, is more likely to create a health
Where Can I Find
Asbestos And When Can It Be A Problem?
Most products made today do
not contain asbestos. Those few products made which still contain asbestos
that could be inhaled are required to be labeled as such. However, until
the 1970s, many types of building products and insulation materials used
in homes contained asbestos. Common products that might have contained
asbestos in the past, and conditions which may release fibers, include:
Steam pipes, boilers and furnace ducts
insulated with an asbestos blanket or asbestos paper tape. These
materials may release asbestos fibers if damaged, repaired, or removed
Resilient floor tiles (vinyl asbestos,
asphalt, and rubber), the backing on vinyl sheet flooring, and
adhesives used for installing floor tile. Sanding tiles can release
fibers. So may scraping or sanding the backing of sheet flooring
Cement sheet, millboard, and paper used as
insulation around furnaces and woodburning stoves. Repairing or
removing appliances may release asbestos fibers. So may cutting,
tearing, sanding, drilling, or sawing insulation.
Door gaskets in furnaces, wood stoves, and
coal stoves. Worn seals can release asbestos fibers during use.
Soundproofing or decorative material
sprayed on walls and ceilings. Loose, crumbly, or water-damaged
material may release fibers. So will sanding, drilling, or scraping
Patching and joint compounds for walls and
ceilings, and textured paints. Sanding, scraping, or drilling these
surfaces may release asbestos.
Asbestos cement roofing, shingles, and
siding. These products are not likely to release asbestos fibers
unless sawed, dilled, or cut.
Artificial ashes and embers sold for use
in gas-fired fireplaces. Also, other older household products such as
fireproof gloves, stove-top pads, ironing board covers, and certain
Automobile brake pads and linings, clutch
facing, and gaskets.
Where Asbestos Hazards May Be Found
In The Home?
|Some roofing and siding shingles are
made of asbestos cement. |
|Houses built between 1930 and 1950 may
have asbestos as insulation. |
|Asbestos may be present in textured
paint and in patching compounds used on wall and ceiling joints. Their
use was banned in 1977. |
|Artificial ashes and embers sold for use
in gas-fired fireplaces may contain asbestos. |
|Older products such as stove-top pads
may have some asbestos compounds. |
|Walls and floors around woodburning
stoves may be protected with asbestos paper, millboard, or cement
|Asbestos is found in some vinyl floor
tiles and the backing on vinyl sheet flooring and adhesives. |
|Hot water and steam pipes in older
houses may be coated with an asbestos material or covered with an
asbestos blanket or tape. |
|Oil and coal furnaces and door gaskets
may have asbestos insulation.|
What Should Be Done About Asbestos
In The Home?
If you think asbestos may be in your home,
don't panic, usually the best thing is to leave asbestos material that
is in good condition alone. Generally, material in good condition will
not release asbestos fibers. There is no danger unless fibers are
released and inhaled into the lungs. Check material regularly if you
suspect it may contain asbestos. Don't touch it, but look for signs of
wear or damage such as tears, abrasions, or water damage. Damaged
material may release asbestos fibers. This is particularly true if you
often disturb it by hitting, rubbing, or handling it, or if it is
exposed to extreme vibration or air flow. Sometimes, the best way to
deal with slightly damaged material is to limit access to the area and
not touch or disturb it. Discard damaged or worn asbestos gloves,
stove-top pads, or ironing board covers. Check with local health,
environmental, or other appropriate officials to find out proper
handling and disposal procedures. If asbestos material is more than
slightly damaged, or if you are going to make changes in your home
that might disturb it, repair or removal by a professional is needed.
Before you have your house remodeled, find out whether asbestos
materials are present. |
How To Identify Materials That Contain Asbestos:
You can't tell whether a material contains asbestos
simply by looking at it, unless it is labeled. If in doubt, treat the
material as if it contains asbestos or have it sampled and analyzed by a
qualified professional. A professional should take samples for analysis,
since a professional knows what to look for, and because there may be an
increased health risk if fibers are released. In fact, if done
incorrectly, sampling can be more hazardous than leaving the material
alone. Taking samples yourself is not recommended. If you nevertheless
choose to take the samples yourself, take care not to release asbestos
fibers into the air or onto yourself. Material that is in good condition
and will not be disturbed (by remodeling, for example) should be left
alone. Only material that is damaged or will be disturbed should be
sampled. Anyone who samples asbestos-containing materials should have as
much information as possible on the handling of asbestos before
sampling, and at a minimum, should observe the following procedures:
|Make sure no one else is in the room when sampling is done.|
Wear disposable gloves or wash hands after sampling.
Shut down any heating or cooling systems to minimize the spread of
any released fibers.
Do not disturb the material any more than is needed to take a small
Place a plastic sheet on the floor below the area to be sampled.
Wet the material using a fine mist of water containing a few drops
of detergent before taking the sample. The water/detergent mist will
reduce the release of asbestos fibers.
Carefully cut a piece from the entire depth of the material using,
for example, a small knife, corer, or other sharp object. Place the
small piece into a clean container (for example, a 35 mm film
canister, small glass or plastic vial, or high quality resealable
Tightly seal the container after the sample is in it.
Carefully dispose of the plastic sheet. Use a damp paper towel to
clean up any material on the outside of the container or around the
area sampled. Dispose of asbestos materials according to state and
Label the container with an identification number and clearly state
when and where the sample was taken.
Patch the sampled area with the smallest possible piece of duct tape
to prevent fiber release.
Send the sample to an asbestos analysis laboratory accredited by the
National Voluntary Laboratory Accreditation Program (NVLAP) at the
National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST). Your state or
local health department may also be able to help.
How To Manage An Asbestos
If the asbestos material is in good shape
and will not be disturbed, do nothing! If it is a problem, there are
two types of corrections: repair and removal. Repair usually involves
either sealing or covering asbestos material. Sealing (encapsulation)
involves treating the material with a sealant that either binds the
asbestos fibers together or coats the material so fibers are not
released. Pipe, furnace, and boiler insulation can sometimes be
repaired this way. This should be done only by a professional trained
to handle asbestos safely. Covering (enclosure) involves placing
something over or around the material that contains asbestos to
prevent release of fibers. Exposed insulated piping may be covered
with a protective wrap or jacket. With any type of repair the asbestos
remains in place. Repair is usually cheaper than removal, but it may
make later removal of asbestos, if necessary, more difficult and
costly. Repairs can either be major or minor. Major repairs must be
done only by a professional trained in methods for safely handling
asbestos. Minor repairs should also be done by professionals since
there is always a risk of exposure to fibers when asbestos is
Doing minor repairs yourself is not
recommended since improper handling of asbestos materials can create a
hazard where none existed. If you nevertheless choose to do minor
repairs, you should have as much information as possible on the
handling of asbestos before doing anything. Contact your state or
local health department or regional EPA office for information about
asbestos training programs in your area. Your local school district
may also have information about asbestos professionals and training
programs for school buildings. Even if you have completed a training
program, do not try anything more than minor repairs. Before
undertaking minor repairs, carefully examine the area around the
damage to make sure it is stable. As a general matter, any damaged
area which is bigger than the size of your hand is not a minor
Before undertaking minor
repairs, be sure to follow all the precautions described earlier for
sampling asbestos material. Always wet the asbestos material using a fine
mist of water containing a few drops of detergent. Commercial products
designed to fill holes and seal damaged areas are available. Small areas
of material such as pipe insulation can be covered by wrapping a special
fabric, such as rewettable glass cloth, around it. These products are
available from stores (listed in the telephone directory under Safety
Equipment and Clothing") which specialize in asbestos materials and safety
Removal is usually the most expensive method
and, unless required by state or local regulations, should be the last
option considered in most situations. This is because removal poses
the greatest risk of fiber release. However, removal may be required
when remodeling or making major changes to your home that will disturb
asbestos material. Also, removal may be called for if asbestos
material is damaged extensively and cannot be otherwise repaired.
Removal is complex and must be done only by a contractor with special
training. Improper removal may actually increase the health risks to
you and your family.|
Asbestos Professionals: Who Are They And What Can
Asbestos professionals are trained in
handling asbestos material. The type of professional will depend on
the type of product and what needs to be done to correct the problem.
You may hire a general asbestos contractor or, in some cases, a
professional trained to handle specific products containing asbestos.
Asbestos professionals can conduct home
inspections, take samples of suspected material, assess its condition,
and advise about what corrections are needed and who is qualified to
make these corrections. Once again, material in good condition need
not be sampled unless it is likely to be disturbed. Professional
correction or abatement contractors repair or remove asbestos
Some firms offer combinations of testing,
assessment, and correction. A professional hired to assess the need
for corrective action should not be connected with an
asbestos-correction firm. It is better to use two different firms so
there is no conflict of interest. Services vary from one area to
another around the country. |
The federal government has training courses
for asbestos professionals around the country. Some state and local
governments also have or require training or certification courses.
Ask asbestos professionals to document their completion of federal or
state-approved training. Each person performing work in your home
should provide proof of training and licensing in asbestos work, such
as completion of EPA-approved training. State and local health
departments or EPA regional offices may have listings of licensed
professionals in your area. |
have a problem that requires the services of asbestos professionals, check
their credentials carefully. Hire professionals who are trained,
experienced, reputable, and accredited - especially if accreditation is
required by state or local laws. Before hiring a professional, ask for
references from previous clients. Find out if they were satisfied. Ask
whether the professional has handled similar situations. Get cost
estimates from several professionals, as the charges for these services
private homes are usually not covered by the asbestos regulations that
apply to schools and public buildings, professionals should still use
procedures described during federal or state-approved training. Homeowners
should be alert to the chance of misleading claims by asbestos consultants
and contractors. There have been reports of firms incorrectly claiming
that asbestos materials in homes must be replaced. In other cases, firms
have encouraged unnecessary removals or performed them improperly.
Unnecessary removals are a waste of money. Improper removals may actually
increase the health risks to you and your family. To guard against this,
know what services are available and what procedures and precautions are
needed to do the job properly.
addition to general asbestos contractors, you may select a roofing,
flooring, or plumbing contractor trained to handle asbestos when it is
necessary to remove and replace roofing, flooring, siding, or
asbestos-cement pipe that is part of a water system. Normally, roofing and
flooring contractors are exempt from state and local licensing
requirements because they do not perform any other asbestos-correction
work. Call 1-800-USA-ROOF for names of qualified roofing contractors in
your area. (Illinois residents call 708-318-6722.) For information on
asbestos in floors, read "Recommended Work Procedures for Resilient Floor
Covers." You can write for a copy from the Resilient Floor Covering
Institute, 966 Hungerford Drive, Suite 12-B, Rockville, MD 20850. Enclose
a stamped, business-size, self-addressed envelope.
Asbestos-containing automobile brake pads
and linings, clutch facings, and gaskets should be repaired and
replaced only by a professional using special protective equipment.
Many of these products are now available without asbestos. For more
information, read "Guidance for Preventing Asbestos Disease Among Auto
Mechanics," available from regional EPA offices.
If You Hire A Professional Asbestos
Make sure that the inspection will
include a complete visual examination and the careful collection and
lab analysis of samples. If asbestos is present, the inspector
should provide a written evaluation describing its location and
extent of damage, and give recommendations for correction or
Make sure an inspecting firm makes
frequent site visits if it is hired to assure that a contractor
follows proper procedures and requirements. The inspector may
recommend and perform checks after the correction to assure the area
has been properly cleaned.
If You Hire A Corrective-Action
Check with your local air pollution
control board, the local agency responsible for worker safety, and the
Better Business Bureau. Ask if the firm has had any safety violations.
Find out if there are legal actions filed against it.
Insist that the contractor use the proper
equipment to do the job. The workers must wear approved respirators,
gloves, and other protective clothing.
Before work begins, get a written contract
specifying the work plan, cleanup, and the applicable federal, state,
and local regulations which the contractor must follow (such as
notification requirements and asbestos disposal procedures). Contact
your state and local health departments, EPA's regional office, and
the Occupational Safety and Health Administration's regional office to
find out what the regulations are. Be sure the contractor follows
local asbestos removal and disposal laws. At the end of the job, get
written assurance from the contractor that all procedures have been
Assure that the contractor avoids
spreading or tracking asbestos dust into other areas of your home.
They should seal the work area from the rest of the house using
plastic sheeting and duct tape, and also turn off the heating and air
conditioning system. For some repairs, such as pipe insulation
removal, plastic glove bags may be adequate. They must be sealed with
tape and properly disposed of when the job is complete.
Make sure the work site is clearly marked
as a hazard area. Do not allow household members and pets into the
area until work is completed.
Insist that the contractor apply a wetting
agent to the asbestos material with a hand sprayer that creates a fine
mist before removal. Wet fibers do not float in the air as easily as
dry fibers and will be easier to clean up.
Make sure the contractor does not break
removed material into small pieces. This could release asbestos fibers
into the air. Pipe insulation was usually installed in preformed
blocks and should be removed in complete pieces.
Upon completion, assure that the
contractor cleans the area well with wet mops, wet rags, sponges, or
HEPA (high efficiency particulate air) vacuum cleaners. A regular
vacuum cleaner must never be used. Wetting helps reduce the chance of
spreading asbestos fibers in the air. All asbestos materials and
disposable equipment and clothing used in the job must be placed in
sealed, leakproof, and labeled plastic bags. The work site should be
visually free of dust and debris. Air monitoring (to make sure there
is no increase of asbestos fibers in the air) may be necessary to
assure that the contractor's job is done properly. This should be done
by someone not connected with the contractor.
Do not dust, sweep, or vacuum
debris that may contain asbestos. These steps will disturb tiny asbestos
fibers and may release them into the air. Remove dust by wet mopping or
with a special HEPA vacuum cleaner used by trained asbestos contractors.
The Information contained within this website is for informational purposes
only. Kevin M. Leonard & The Ohio Home Inspections Company always recommends that
a qualified expert be consulted in the area of concern.
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