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Asbestos

We’ve heard so much about the danger of asbestos exposure. Here are a few facts that may either calm us, or help us realize the danger we are in.

Asbestos is a group of minerals with thin microscopic fibers. These fibers are resistant to heat, fire, and chemicals and do not conduct electricity. Asbestos has been mined and used widely in the construction, automotive, and other industries.

If products containing asbestos are disturbed, the tiny fibers are released into the air. When they are inhaled, these fibers can become trapped in the lungs and stay there for many years. Over time they can accumulate and cause serious health problems.

Asbestos Exposure Risks

Asbestos exposure may occur in the workplace, home, or community. Mined and used commercially since the 1800s, asbestos has been used in many products, including: car brake shoes and clutch pads; building materials, including ceiling and floor tiles; paints, coatings, and adhesives; plastics; vermiculite-containing garden products; and some talc-containing crayons. Due to federal regulations and health concerns, asbestos is much less widely used than it was just a few decades ago.

From 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 in the forms of mesothelioma.

Exposure to small amounts of asbestos does 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 hazard.

Where Can Asbestos be Found & 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.

According to the International Association of Certified Home Inspectors, common products that might have contained asbestos in the past, and might present a risk for you 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 improperly;
  • 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, and so may scraping or sanding the backing of sheet flooring during removal;
  • cement sheet, millboard and paper used as insulation around furnaces and wood-burning stoves. Repairing or removing appliances may release asbestos fibers, and 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, and so will sanding, drilling or scraping the material;
  • patching and joint compounds for walls and ceilings, and textured paints. Sanding, scraping, or drilling these surfaces may release asbestos fibers;
  • 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, and other older household products, such as fireproof gloves, stove-top pads, ironing board covers and certain hairdryers; and
  • automobile brake pads and linings, clutch facings 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 wood-burning stoves may be protected with asbestos paper, millboard or cement sheets.
  • 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

  1. If in good condition, leave asbestos material alone, because it will not release asbestos fibers. There is no danger unless the asbestos is disturbed and fibers are released and then inhaled into the lungs. Just check it regularly, but don't touch it. Look for signs of wear or damage, such as tears, abrasions or water damage. Damaged material may release asbestos fibers.
  2. If slightly damaged, the best way to deal with it is to limit access to the area and not touch or disturb it.
  3. If damaged, discard it after checking with local health, environmental or other appropriate agencies to find out proper handling and disposal procedures.
  4. If 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.

How to Manage an Asbestos Problem

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 is usually cheaper than removal, but it may make later removal of asbestos more difficult and costly. With any type of repair, asbestos remains in place. Repair usually involves either sealing or covering asbestos material. This should be done only by a professional trained to handle asbestos safely.
  • 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.

Remember:

  • Before you have your house remodeled, find out whether asbestos materials are present. If you want to know how to identify materials that contain asbestos, and how to handle them read more here.
  • Unnecessary asbestos removal is a waste of money.
  • Improper asbestos removal may actually increase the health risks to you and your family.
  • Do not dust, sweep or vacuum debris that may contain asbestos. These actions 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.
  • Always follow safety instructions when you see warning signs regarding the presence of asbestos exposure.

If you want to know more about Asbestos Professionals: who they are and how they can help you read here.

Resources:
      www.nachi.org

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