Many people worry about asbestos – especially when purchasing a new home, before or during renovations, or if they live near a commercial construction site or properties that are undergoing demolition. But what do you really know about asbestos? The mere presence of asbestos is not usually a problem. Over time, however, asbestos may become damaged. When it does, it can release dangerous asbestos fibers into the air you breathe. The removal of asbestos, if not done correctly, can also pose a health threat.
Here are some answers to our most frequently asked questions.
Q. What is asbestos?
A. Asbestos is a very strong mineral fiber that was once added to many different products to strengthen them. It was also used to provide heat insulation and fire resistance. There are several types of asbestos fibers.
Q. Where is asbestos found?
A. Asbestos can be found in roofing materials, siding shingles, insulation (homes built between 1930 – 1950), textured paint (pre-1977), patching compounds (pre-1977), walls and floors around wood-burning stoves, vinyl floor tiles and adhesives, insulation for hot water and steam pipes in older homes, and oil and coal furnaces.
Q. How do I know if there is asbestos in my home?
A. The only way to be sure whether a material contains asbestos is to have it tested by a qualified laboratory. The EPA recommends testing suspect materials if they are damaged (fraying, crumbling) or if you are planning a renovation that would disturb the suspect material. A properly trained and accredited asbestos inspector should take the samples.
Q. How can asbestos affect my health?
A. Exposure to asbestos, especially airborne asbestos fibers, increases your risk of developing lung disease and cancer. Disease symptoms generally take several years – even decades – to develop following exposure. Continued exposure can increase the amount of fibers that remain in the lung. Fibers embedded in lung tissue over time may cause serious lung diseases including asbestosis, lung cancer, or mesothelioma.
Q. We are going to be renovating, and I’m not sure if there is asbestos in my home. Should I be concerned?
A. Unfortunately, it’s not possible for you to tell whether a material in your home contains asbestos simply by looking at it. The EPA suggests that if you suspect a material within your home might contain asbestos (for example floor tile, ceiling tile or old pipe wrap) and the material is damaged (fraying or falling apart) or if you are planning on performing a renovation that would disturb the material, have it sampled by a properly trained and accredited asbestos professional like RTK Environmental.
Q. I suspect there is asbestos in my home. What should I do?
A. First and foremost, do not disturb the asbestos. It is generally not harmful until it is disturbed and fibers are released into the air. Next, have a professional testing company come in to test for asbestos. It may be that the asbestos in your home is in good shape and does not need removal. If not, a certified, independent asbestos testing company can provide an asbestos remediation plan for you so that you and your family are safe.
Q. We are going to be doing demolition on our home and know we only have asbestos in one place that won’t be touched. Is it safe to go ahead with the demolition without having the house tested for asbestos?
A. Not really. A demolition could expose an asbestos problem you weren’t aware of. Also, look for signs of wear and tear in areas you know contain asbestos. But whatever you do, don’t touch it. Consider having the asbestos encapsulated to insure that the fibers will not become airborne.
Asbestos can be very dangerous, but is easily managed. Take the necessary steps to make sure you and your family is not harmed by asbestos.