What Is Asbestos?
Asbestos is a mineral fiber that can be positively identified only with a special type of microscope. There are several types of asbestos fibers. In the past, asbestos was added to a variety of products to strengthen them and to provide heat insulation and fire resistance.
How Can Asbestos Affect Human Health?
We know that breathing high levels of asbestos fibers can lead to an increased risk of lung cancer in the forms of mesothelioma, which is a cancer of the lining of the chest and the abdominal cavity, and asbestosis, in which the lungs become scarred with fibrous tissue. The risk of lung cancer and mesothelioma increase with the number of fibers inhaled. People who get asbestosis have usually been exposed to high levels of asbestos for a long time.
How does this affect Homeowners today?
Most people exposed to small amounts of asbestos, as we all are in our daily lives, do not develop these health problems. However, if disturbed, asbestos material may release asbestos fibers, which can be inhaled into the lungs. The fibers can remain there for a long time, increasing the risk of disease. Asbestos material that would crumble easily if handled, or that has been sawed, scraped, or sanded into a powder, is more likely to create a health hazard.
Where Would Asbestos Be Found in the Home, 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. If you are buying a home that was built before 1978, asbestos could be found in the following forms.
- Hot water steam and steam pipes could be covered with asbestos tape
- Resilient floor tiles
- Insulation and door gaskets around furnaces
- Some old joint compounds for walls and ceilings and textured paints (banned in 1977)
- Roofing, shingles and siding
- Insulation in house built between 1930 and 1950
- Artificial ashes and embers sold for use in gas-fired fireplaces
- Older products, such as stove-top pads, may have some asbestos compound
While a home inspector cannot provide a positive visual identification of an asbestos product, they can provide guidance as homeowners determine the best course of action.
What Should Be Done If You Asbestos in Your Home?
- If you think asbestos may be in your home, don’t panic. Usually, the best thing to do is to leave asbestos material that is in good condition alone. Generally, material in good condition will not release asbestos fibers.
- If the material is damaged, worn or disturbed in any way, don’t touch it! Do a visual search for loose fibers that could release into the air.
- Limit access to the area if there is any chance of rubbing or handling the asbestos material accidently.
- 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.
- Check with local health, environmental or other appropriate agencies to find out proper handling and disposal procedures.