WHAT IS ASBESTOS?
Asbestos is a mineral fiber that occurs naturally in rock and soil.
Where Can I Find Asbestos?
There are over 3,000 known products that may contain asbestos. Because of its fiber strength and heat resistance asbestos has been used in a variety of building construction materials for insulation and as a fire retardant. Asbestos has also been used in a wide range of manufactured goods, mostly in building materials, friction products, heat-resistant fabrics, packaging, gaskets, and coatings.
How Can People Be Exposed to Asbestos?
Asbestos fibers may be released into the air by the disturbance of asbestos-containing material during product use, demolition work, building or home maintenance, repair, and remodeling. In general, exposure may occur only when the asbestos-containing material is disturbed or damaged in some way to release particles and fibers into the air.
Health Effects From Exposure to Asbestos
Exposure to asbestos increases your risk of developing lung disease. That risk is made worse by smoking. In general, the greater the exposure to asbestos, the greater the chance of developing harmful health effects.
Disease symptoms may take many years to develop following exposure.
Asbestos-related conditions can be difficult to identify. Healthcare providers usually identify the possibility of asbestos exposure and related health conditions like lung disease by taking a thorough medical history. This includes looking at the person’s medical, work, cultural and environmental history.
After a doctor suspects an asbestos-related health condition, he or she can use a number of tools to help make the actual diagnosis. Some of these tools are physical examination, chest x-ray and pulmonary function tests. Your doctor may also refer you to a specialist who treats diseases caused by asbestos.
Three of the major health effects associated with asbestos exposure are:
- Lung cancer
- Mesothelioma, a rare form of cancer that is found in the thin lining of the lung, chest and the abdomen and heart
- Asbestosis, a serious progressive, long-term, non-cancer disease of the lungs
Protect Your Family
How to Identify Materials That May Contain Asbestos
Generally, 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 and leave it alone. You may want to have your home inspected for asbestos-containing materials by a trained and accredited asbestos professional (that’s us!!!) if:
- You are planning to remodel your home (remodeling can disturb building materials)
- Your home has damaged building materials (like crumbling drywall and insulation that is falling apart)
A trained and accredited asbestos professional (that’s us!!!) 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 building materials in your home aren’t damaged and won’t be disturbed, you do not need to have your home tested for asbestos. Material that is in good condition and will not be disturbed (by remodeling, for example) should be left alone.
What to Do If You Have Asbestos in Your Home
If you think there may be asbestos in your home, don’t panic.
Asbestos-containing materials that aren’t damaged or disturbed are not likely to pose a health risk. Usually the best thing is to leave asbestos-containing material alone if it is in good condition.
Generally, asbestos-containing material that is in good condition and will not be disturbed (by remodeling, for example) will not release asbestos fibers.
Asbestos-containing materials may release fibers when they are disturbed, damaged, removed improperly, repaired, cut, torn, sanded, sawed, drilled or scraped. Keep an eye on asbestos-containing materials and visually check them over time for signs of wear or damage.
If you suspect material contains asbestos, don’t touch it. 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, or if it is exposed to extreme vibration or air flow.
For slightly damaged asbestos-containing material, sometimes the best way to deal with it is to limit access to the area and not to touch or disturb it. If asbestos-containing 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 trained and accredited asbestos professional is needed.
Asbestos Do’s and Don’ts for the Homeowner
- Do leave undamaged asbestos-containing materials alone.
- Do keep activities to a minimum in any areas having damaged material that may contain asbestos, including limiting children’s access to any materials that may contain asbestos.
- Do take every precaution to avoid damaging asbestos-containing material.
- Do have removal and major repair done by people trained and qualified in handling asbestos. It is highly recommended that sampling and minor repair also be done by a trained and accredited asbestos professional.
- Don’t dust, sweep, or vacuum debris that may contain asbestos.
- Don’t saw, sand, scrape, or drill holes in asbestos-containing materials.
- Don’t use abrasive pads or brushes on power strippers to strip wax from asbestos flooring. Never use a power stripper on flooring that may contain asbestos.
- Don’t sand or try to level asbestos flooring or its backing. When asbestos flooring needs replacing install new floor covering over it, if possible.
- Don’t track material that could contain asbestos through the house. If you cannot avoid walking through the area, have it cleaned with a wet mop. If the material is from a damaged area or if a large area must be cleaned, call an asbestos professional.
If You Have an Asbestos Problem
If the asbestos-containing material is more than slightly damaged or could be disturbed, there are two types of actions that can be taken by trained and accredited asbestos professionals: repair and removal.
Repair usually involves either sealing or covering asbestos material. With any type of repair, the asbestos remains in place.
- 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.
Removal may be required when remodeling or making major changes to your home will disturb asbestos-containing material. Also, removal may be called for if asbestos-containing material is damaged extensively and cannot be otherwise repaired. Removal is complex and must be done only by a trained and accredited asbestos professional. Improper removal may actually increase your and your family’s exposure to asbestos fibers.
Asbestos Professionals: Who Are They and What Can They Do?
In general, there are two main types of accredited asbestos professionals that can be hired to handle asbestos-containing material:
Asbestos Inspectors (THAT’S US!!!). These professionals can inspect a home or building, assess conditions, take samples of suspected materials for testing, and advise about what corrections are needed. If repair or removal of asbestos materials is chosen, inspectors can ensure the corrective-action contractor has followed proper procedures, including proper clean up, and can monitor the air to ensure no increase of asbestos fibers.
Asbestos Contractors. These professionals can repair or remove asbestos materials. Before you hire an Asbestos Contractor, avoid a conflict of interest. An Asbestos Inspector hired to assess the need for asbestos repair or removal, should not be connected with the asbestos firm that does the actual repair or removal of materials. It is better to use two different firms so there is no conflict of interest.