Does the House You’re Working on Contain Asbestos?

Asbestos is a fibrous material naturally found in the earth.  It was mined extensively for its resistance to heat and chemicals for use in piping insulation, gaskets, and many building materials up to about 1980.  The heat resistant properties made it suitable for use on hot process piping, boilers and the like, in buildings and on ships.  Miners, Boilermakers and Naval sailors were among the first people to show negative health symptoms causing the first awareness of those health related issues.  When disturbed, (i.e. drilled, sawed, sanded or otherwise broken up) during installation or during renovation or demolition, tiny fibers are released into the air and are typically inhaled.  Asbestos exposure at a high enough level has been linked to lung cancer and mesothelioma.  Lesser exposure can cause permanent lung damage, if not cancer, in the form of pleural plaques and pleural thickening,  which can impair the lungs.

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Is it Asbestos?

There are thousands of documented cases of asbestos exposure on record, and many an asbestos  lawsuit has been brought against the manufacturers on behalf of the injured parties.  Asbestos litigation is a stand-alone industry today.  Most of the current exposure victims are from the construction industry.

Any house built before about 1980 may contain asbestos products.  The safest policy to adopt as part of a Home Renovation Project -before any interior demolition commences, is to have an asbestos survey conducted by a certified asbestos professional.  Fibers from building materials will be gathered and tested for asbestos fibers.

Building materials that do contain asbestos material can look the same as materials that do not.  The only way to positively identify asbestos is to have it analyzed by a qualified lab.

If the building materials containing asbestos are in poor condition, it could pose a risk to those taking samples.  Both plaster and drywall can contain asbestos.  Drywall joint compound commonly contained asbestos before 1990.

Other materials known to have been made with asbestos:

  • Textured ceilings
  • Flooring -both sheet goods and vinyl floor tile
  • Fireplaces
  • boiler insulation
  • Heating Ducts -seams or coverings
  • Mastic cement for sealing furnace or stovepipes through the wall
  • Transite Wall Board -as a covering for the walls in furnace rooms
  • Attic insulation -an inspection underneath the fiberglass insulation may reveal some other loose material containing asbestos- part of the original construction
  • Vermiculite used to fill the cores spaces in cement blocks

For safety, any asbestos containing material found during a survey preceding demolition or renovation, must be removed by a licensed asbestos abatement specialist, wearing proper Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) -which would include a face mask type of respirator with a filter designed for the task and Tyvek suits.  To contain the airborne asbestos particulate fibers the affected area will be cordoned off during the removal process.

Check these resources for more perspective on asbestos:

Asbestos History

Banned Asbestos Building Products

Asbestos Related Disorders

Mesothelioma Incidence -Factors that Increase your Risk

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