What is asbestos?
Amosite, chrysotile, crocidolite, tremolite, actinolite, and anthophyllite are the six minerals grouped together and collectively named asbestos. These minerals occur naturally in the environment and are mined for their unique characteristics. Asbestos minerals have separable fibers that are strong and flexible enough to be spun and woven and are heat resistant. Because of these characteristics, asbestos has been used for a wide range of manufactured goods, mostly in building materials (roofing shingles, ceiling and floor tiles, paper products, and asbestos cement products), friction products (automobile clutch, brake, and transmission parts), heat-resistant fabrics, packaging, gaskets, and coatings. Some vermiculite or talc products may also contain asbestos.
Why is asbestos a health hazard?
Asbestos fibers are microscopic and when they become air-born they float in the air and can be inhaled deep into the lungs. Asbestos has long been recognized as a health threat to humans, because the fibers when breathed in are difficult to remove from the lungs. People with long term, high exposure to asbestos fibers such as asbestos miners and certain construction and manufacturing workers who are regularly exposed to asbestos in their jobs are most likely to suffer from asbestos related health effects. Fibers embedded in lung tissue over time may result in lung diseases such as lung cancer, or mesothelioma and others.
Asbestos Dangers to Homeowners?
“Even if asbestos is in your home, this is usually NOT a serious problem. The mere presence of asbestos in a home or a building is not hazardous. The danger is that asbestos materials may become damaged over time. Damaged asbestos may release asbestos fibers and become a health hazard.…
THE BEST THING TO DO WITH ASBESTOS MATERIAL IN GOOD CONDITION IS TO LEAVE IT ALONE! Disturbing it may create a health hazard where none existed before. Read this before you have any asbestos material inspected, removed, or repaired.”… United States Consumer Product Safety Commission
A Syracuse elementary school in recent years was renovated and at the same time was mitigated to remove asbestos containing materials. They took asbestos air samples before and after the asbestos mitigation. Everything was done according to high and expensive government mitigation protocols and took more than a year to complete. The building was tented with a huge plastic bubble and the air scrubbed (filtered) the best they could, the end result when kids were moved back into the school was that the amount of asbestos was significantly higher afterwards before they started.
When asbestos-containing materials are present in and around your home yet undisturbed there is little or no danger. Most asbestos containing materials in the home are quite stable and pose little or no health threat if they are not damaged. When asbestos materials are present and damaged or disturbed so that tiny asbestos particles and fibers are released into the air, then a danger exists if breathed into your lungs.
Where Might Asbestos be Found in or Around the Home.
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 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. Also scraping or sanding the backing and or adheasive of sheet flooring during removal.
- 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 the material.
- 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 HAIRDRYERS.
- AUTOMOBILE BRAKE PADS AND LININGS, CLUTCH FACINGS, and GASKETS.
What To Do About Asbestos In Your Home?
Don’t panic! If you think you may have asbestos in your home 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 1. fibers are released and 2. the fibers are 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. In central New York most areas allow homeowners to disposed of household asbestos in the regular trash.
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 for that testing by a professional is needed.