What You Should Know About Asbestos

What Is Asbestos?

Asbestos is a mineral fiber. It can be positively identified only with a special type of microscope. There are several types of asbestos fibers. In the past, insulation and heat-resistant properties made asbestos an excellent building material.

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Unfortunately, from studies of people who were exposed to asbestos in factories and shipyards, we know that breathing high levels of asbestos fibers can lead to an increased risk of:

– lung cancer;
– mesothelioma, a cancer of the lining of the chest and the abdominal cavity; and
– asbestosis, in which the lungs become scarred with fibrous tissue.

Prolonged asbestos exposure is a very serious health hazard. 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.

Asbestos at Home:

The reason old buildings are such a common cause of Mesothelioma Cancer, is that there asbestos that was widely used in the construction process between 1930 and 1990. At the time, it was sought of as a kind of an out of this world manmade product, because it had so many fantastic characteristics.

It was an exceptional insulator and a very powerful fire retardant. In addition, at the time is was an extremely inexpensive building material to use, so it was put in almost every building that was built until the scientist discovered how deadly it was. A massive decline in use occurred when health risks became widely known in the 1980s.

What makes this a big issue today, is that nobody really knows how many buildings it is in, where they are located, or where it is situated within the buildings. It is possible for asbestos not to cause any health problems at all in a particular building if it’s completely covered by concrete, or it does not have access to air.

But, once the air is able to reach it, the dust in the area can contain its particles that a person could breath, which could eventually lead to death.

Although the future of asbestos production is uncertain, the historical use of the product still has a present-day impact on renovators and homeowners alike.

  • From 1930 to 1990: Asbestos was used in thousands of applications over the years – an excellent building material.
  • After 1995: Vinyl floor tiles; cement; exterior siding and shingles are just a few of the materials containing asbestos seen in homes up to 1995.


Asbestos and Home Renovation:

Not a job for the weekend renovator, asbestos abatement is serious business because just one air-borne fibre can lead to a health problem. Left undisturbed, asbestos is a benign substance, but when fibres are displaced, they stay airborne for many hours making inhalation possible. It can take decades to create the lung scar tissue that leads to diagnosis of an asbestos-related condition like mesothelioma, lung cancer and asbestosis.

Fortunately, with knowledge of the risks of asbestos exposure comes a variety of options to protect both homeowners and workers involved in a renovation. In fact, there are 5 key points you really need to know:

1) Asbestos only becomes a problem once it’s disturbed and the fibres airborne.
2) Any building built prior to year 2000 can contain asbestos.
3) Non-domestic buildings must have an asbestos survey report and register.
4) Asbestos materials identified in the building must be managed & the register updated regularly.
5) Preventing exposure to asbestos dust will protect against related illness and fatal diseases.

Removal is usually the most expensive method and, unless required by state or local regulations, should be the last option considered in most situations. This is because removal poses the greatest risk of fiber release. However, removal may be required when remodeling or making major changes to your home that will disturb asbestos material.

Building Survey:

The purpose of the asbestos management survey is to locate, as far as reasonably practicable, the presence and extent of any suspect asbestos in the building. This type of asbestos survey is necessary prior to any demolition or refurbishment work being carried out.

Surveys are neither pretty, nor cheap. Depending on the square footage, they can range from $ 1,100 to $ 1,500 or more and you can expect damage to surfaces as a result.

Once testing is complete and asbestos containing products are found in the demolition areas, a removal specialist can come in and start the abatement process. It is a lot of work. The company is obligated to protect both the employees and the building occupants where we detect asbestos.

The procedure required is based upon the level of risk associated with the demolition. Even cabinets, generally non-asbestos containing products, can disturb asbestos in the sheetrock compound when removed.

However, it isn’t illegal for a homeowner to deal with asbestos on his own, but it isn’t advisable.

What You Should Do:

– Take every precaution to avoid damaging asbestos material.
– Keep activities to a minimum in any areas having damaged material that may contain asbestos.
– You should 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 and 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 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.

  • – Do not dust, sweep, or vacuum debris that may contain asbestos. These steps will disturb tiny asbestos fibers and may release them into the air. Remove dust by wet mopping or with a special HEPA vacuum cleaner used by trained asbestos contractors.

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