are detectors available on the market that can alert you to the dangers of smoke
or gas in the air but not so with asbestos.
you suspect that there is asbestos insulation or flooring materials in your home,
read this handy guide for instructions on the mineral's dangers and health effects,
where asbestos is typically found in the home, what to do (or not do!) when making
home repairs, advice on proper handling, along with contact numbers in the U.S.
and links to more info on asbestos dangers & safety
is a mineral made up of tiny fibers. It can be positively identified only with
a special type of microscope. There are several types of asbestos fibers, some
are more harmful than others. In the past, asbestos was added to a variety of
products to strengthen them and to provide heat insulation and fire resistance.
Many homes were made using asbestos for insulation, flooring and in heating and
of using asbestos has been recognized throughout history. Warning about the
health effects of asbestos can be found in writings from Ancient Greece! The first
documented case of an asbestos-related death was reported in 1906. However, it
was not until the late 1970s that laws in America began to change to protect people
from the health hazards of asbestos exposure. Asbestos was not totally banned
in the UK until late in 1999 and Japan is still waiting to enact laws against
all forms of asbestos.
Can Asbestos Affect My Health?
are exposed to asbestos, most of the fibers that you inhale are expelled when
you exhale. Only a few fibers remain in the lungs and these tend to lodge in the
lining of the lungs, called the pleura. The mineral fibers that make up asbestos
act like tiny knives and cause microscopic punctures in the air sacs that line
the inside of the lung. These air sacs act like balloons, filling up and releasing
oxygen as you breathe. Over time the fibers cause scarring and inflammation that
makes the pleura thicken. When the lining of the lungs gets thick, it loses its
elastic properties and the amount of oxygen you get when you breathe is reduced.
of people who were exposed to asbestos in factories and shipyards, we know that
breathing high levels of irritating asbestos fibers can lead to an increased risk
mesothelioma, a cancer of the lining of the chest and the abdominal cavity;
and -- asbestosis, a non-cancerous condition in which the lungs become
scarred with fibrous tissue.
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, although this is not always the case.
cancers affecting the esophagus, stomach and colon have also been linked to exposure to asbestos.
cases of asbestos related disease have been found in families of the people who worked with asbestos. The fibers cling to work clothes and are released into the air at home, affecting anyone who lives with the person exposed to asbestos at work. Families who live in areas where asbestos is mined also have a greater risk for developing asbestos related disorders. The symptoms of these diseases do not
usually appear until about 20 to 30 years after the first exposure to asbestos.
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. Therefore, asbestos dangers from renovating older homes continues to be a very real threat well into the 21st century.
Common products that might have contained asbestos in the
past, and conditions which may release fibers, include:
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. 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. 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.
CEMENT ROOFING, SHINGLES, and SIDING. These products are not likely to release asbestos fibers unless sawed, drilled, 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 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.
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). A directory of NVLAP-accredited laboratories is available on the NVLAP web site (also see their Building Materials Database). Your state or local health department may also be able to help.
Asbestos Do's And Don'ts For The Homeowner
keep activities to a minimum in any areas having damaged material that may contain asbestos.
Do take every precaution to avoid damaging asbestos 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 asbestos professionals.
Don't dust, sweep, or vacuum debris that may contain asbestos.
Don't saw, sand, scrape, or drill holes in asbestos materials.
Don't use abrasive pads or brushes on power strippers to strip wax from asbestos flooring. Never use a power stripper on a dry floor.
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.
Major repairs must be done only by a professional trained in methods for safely handling asbestos.
repairs should also be done by professionals since there is always a risk of exposure to fibers when asbestos is disturbed.
For more information on asbestos in other consumer products, call the CPSC Hotline or write to the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission, Washington, DC 20207. The CPSC Hotline has information on certain appliances and products, such as the brands and models of hair dryers that contain asbestos. Call CPSC at 1-800-638-CPSC. A teletypewriter (TTY) for the hearing impaired is available at 1-800-638-8270. The Maryland TTY number is 1-800-492-8104.
To find out whether your state has a training and certification program for asbestos
removal contractors, and for information on EPA's asbestos programs, call the EPA at 202-554-1404.
For more information on asbestos identification and control activities, contact the Asbestos Coordinator in the EPA Regional Office for your region, or your state or local health department.