There 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.
If 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 tips...
The danger 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?
From studies 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 of lung cancer:
-- mesothelioma, a cancer of the lining of the chest and the abdominal cavity;
The 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.
Gastrointestinal cancers affecting the esophagus, stomach and colon have also been linked to exposure to asbestos.
Many 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.
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. 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.
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.
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.
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
Major repairs must be done only by a professional trained in methods for safely handling asbestos.
Minor 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.