The handling of asbestos must be done with great care due to the toxic properties of this substance and its classification as a known carcinogen. It’s important to know that when asbestos is in good condition, it does not usually present a hazard. However, worn or damaged asbestos poses a great risk to the health and safety of humans as fibers may flake off and become airborne. At that point, it’s possible for anyone in the vicinity to inhale these toxic fibers, which in turn, can become embedded in the chest. Years later, victims of asbestos exposure can develop serious asbestos-related diseases, such as asbestosis or mesothelioma.
Asbestos in the Home
Although asbestos use essentially ended by 1980, there are many old homes that still contain asbestos insulation, flooring, ceiling tiles, shingles, siding, and other items. Hence, when renovation or demolition projects take place in the home, these items must be handled with care. Homeowners who perform do-it-yourself projects should NEVER remove or manipulate asbestos products on their own. A licensed asbestos abatement professional should always be hired to do this work. These professionals not only know how to and when to remove asbestos (or when to simply encapsulate it), they have the ability to properly dispose of the material as well.
Asbestos in the Workplace
Any workplace where employees may encounter asbestos materials must, by law, have an asbestos management plan in place. These means that all asbestos materials are identified and will be properly maintained at all times, and that those individuals who work with the material will be instructed as to proper handling to avoid any asbestos cancer hazard.
Furthermore, employees should never be expected to handle the removal of asbestos or take part in any demolition that may disturb asbestos materials. As with asbestos in the home, any asbestos in the workplace should be handled by licensed asbestos professionals who are trained in management, abatement, and disposal of the toxic material.
Asbestos from Natural Disasters
Natural disasters such as hurricanes and tornadoes can result in significant damage to homes and commercial buildings. If these structures contain asbestos, the harmful particles may become friable, and can be inhaled by people, as well as pets. Often, those responsible for the recovery and clean up in the wake of a natural disaster, fire, or flood are exposed to harmful asbestos and are at risk for developing mesothelioma. But first responders and those assisting with rescue, recovery and rebuilding efforts are not the only individuals at risk of exposure following a natural disaster or other catastrophic event. All people who are present in a location where asbestos fibers have become airborne face the risk of asbestos inhalation. For this reason, it is important to exercise proper handling precautions after natural disasters such as hurricanes, tornadoes, fires and/or floods to ensure protection from possible asbestos exposure following these types of emergencies.
Protecting Yourself from Asbestos Inhalation
The following factors indicate that you are likely to face asbestos exposure after a natural disaster:
If your home was built before the mid-eighties and contains asbestos materials such as attic insulation, floor or ceiling tiles or piping insulation.
If you are participating in recovery efforts in an area where asbestos materials are known to have been disturbed or damaged.
In an emergency situation, it is often up to the individuals to protect themselves from asbestos inhalation. If you live in a part of the country where natural disasters such as tornadoes, hurricanes, floods, or severe windstorms are the norm, it is recommended that you put together an emergency kit that includes a mask that adequately covers the nose and mouth. The mask will not only protect you from asbestos inhalation, but from inhalation of other airborne chemicals and toxins as well. At home, the kit should include a mask for each family member and pet, as well as additional masks just in case. At the office, masks for each employee should be on hand in the event of an asbestos emergency. Also included in the emergency kit should be bottles of water. Not only will the water keep individuals hydrated in an emergency, but it can also be used to wet asbestos products – when wet, asbestos materials are less likely to become airborne, thus reducing one’s risk of exposure in an emergency situation. An asbestos emergency kit should also contain the following items:
Gloves, protective eyewear, disposable clothing and booties:
Asbestos fibers can be transferred from one location to another on shoes, clothes, and other clothing items. It is imperative to wear disposable clothing items in an asbestos emergency to avoid this.
If you must remove some asbestos materials on your own, before a licensed abatement professional can arrive, it is important to first wet the asbestos products using the water bottles in your emergency kit. Then, while wearing protective gloves and other outerwear, carefully place the asbestos materials into a garbage bag, and seal it completely. Bags with hazardous asbestos should be clearly marked. They cannot be disposed of just anywhere; asbestos waste must be disposed of in a designated landfill. Contact local authorities before disposing this type of waste following a natural disaster or other damaging event.
Why Test for Asbestos?
Asbestos is highly toxic and was widely used in a large number of building materials including flooring, ceiling tiles, insulation, cements, joint compound and more. It is important, therefore to test for the presence of asbestos before initiating any building repairs or improvements on structures that were built prior to 1980. Not doing so can put you and others in the immediate vicinity at risk for inhaling airborne asbestos fibers during the repair or renovation. Asbestos has causal links to mesothelioma, a type of asbestos cancer.
The Role of an Asbestos Consultant
An asbestos consultant is certified to perform accredited testing for asbestos. They are also equipped to make recommendations for the safe removal or containment of asbestos containing material and can monitor and certify the success of the work of an asbestos removal contractor.
The Role of an Asbestos Removal Contractor
Asbestos removal is typically required before an older building is demolished, prior to any maintenance or renovation that could disturb asbestos containing materials or when asbestos containing materials are damaged. An asbestos removal contractor will determine whether and HSE (Health and Safety Executive) license is required for the job. This type of license is usually necessary when there is a high probability that asbestos fibers will be released into the air during the scheduled work. The removal contractor will assess what is required for removal, perform the removal work and dispose of the hazardous material.
There are stringent requirements set by federal, state, and local authorities regarding the methods for asbestos handling, removal, and disposal. The asbestos removal regulations vary state-by-state so it is important to ensure that the hired removal professional is fully in compliance with all state laws and regulations.
Find Asbestos Contractors and Other Helpful Resources
To locate an asbestos removal professional near you, visit:
To learn more about the asbestos regulations set forth by the Environmental Protection Agency, visit:
To familiarize yourself with OSHA asbestos information and guidelines, go to:
Environmental Protection Agency. Asbestos: Risk and Assessment. 2006.