01. Dangers of Asbestos in the Home
Why Is Asbestos in the Home Dangerous?
Asbestos materials in the home may become worn or damaged over time. Disturbing these materials can cause microscopic asbestos fibers to become airborne. People may unknowingly release asbestos fibers during home maintenance or renovation projects. Anyone in the home is then at risk of inhaling and/or ingesting the fibers.
Exposure to asbestos is linked to several diseases, including malignant mesothelioma.
Exposure to asbestos in the home may cause:
Preventing asbestos exposure, in the home or on the jobsite, is the best way to prevent asbestos-related diseases.
When Was Asbestos Used in the Home?
Before the 1980s, asbestos was commonly used in thousands of consumer products and building materials.
According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), more than 30 million tons of asbestos were used between 1900 and 1980. Some of these past uses are still in materials and products people may come into contact with today.
There is less asbestos risk in newer homes. Although asbestos is not fully banned in the United States, newer homes typically were not built with asbestos-containing materials. Homes built after 1980 are less likely to contain asbestos. However, stockpiles of asbestos-containing materials may have been used into the 1990s.
02. Where Is Asbestos in the Home
Where to Find Asbestos in the Home
Asbestos-containing materials may be found in all areas of the home. From the 1930s through the 1970s, asbestos was included in building materials. The mineral was popular because of its durability and resistance to heat and chemicals.
Construction materials exposed to heat for prolonged periods often contained asbestos.
Asbestos products were also used as:
- An insulator in electrical products
The varied uses of asbestos before the 1980s put many in danger of asbestos exposure in their homes.
Common Asbestos-Containing Materials Found in the Home
- Asbestos rope/sheet
- Boiler insulation
- Ceiling tiles
- Cement roofing
- Cement sheets
- Duct/pipe insulation
- Joint compound
- Roof shingles
- Roofing felt
- Siding shingles
- Vermiculite attic insulation
- Vinyl floor tiles
- Vinyl sheet flooring
How to Identify Asbestos in the Home
It is not possible to identify asbestos-containing materials with the naked eye. However, there are signs of asbestos homeowners can look for. These clues may hint toward the presence of the mineral in certain products.
For example, the older a home is, the more likely asbestos materials were used during its construction. Homes built before 1980 should be assumed to contain the mineral somewhere. Newer homes are less likely to contain asbestos products.
Ways to Identify Some Common Household Uses of Asbestos
Textured paint used on walls and ceilings often contained asbestos. Popcorn ceilings were popular between 1945 and the early 1990s. Homeowners should assume all popcorn ceilings from this period contain asbestos.
Asbestos in certain products, such as shingles, roofing materials or pipe insulation, can cause dimpling in the material’s surface. Dimpling materials in the home should be tested by an asbestos professional.
Check Surplus Materials for Labels Identifying Asbestos
Without testing done by an asbestos professional, it can be very difficult to identify asbestos products at home. However, it may be possible to identify asbestos-containing materials through packaging.
Homeowners may be able to safely inspect packages of leftover home construction materials for labels signifying the products contain asbestos.
For example, spare boxes of vinyl floor tiles may have a stamp on the box or the back of the tiles that states they contain asbestos. A date included on the packaging may also indicate that they were manufactured during the height of asbestos use (1930s – 1980s). However, handling the tiles may carry exposure risk. Homeowners should only inspect the outside of the packaging for a label.
If there are no packages, it is best to assume any flooring or other construction materials installed before 1980 contain the mineral. Homeowners should treat these materials with caution.
While visual clues like labels can suggest the presence of asbestos in the home, it is not a fool-proof method to identify asbestos.
To continue the earlier example, vinyl floor tiles have a high likelihood of containing the mineral. However, these products came in a variety of shapes and sizes, and not all used asbestos in their production.
03. How Home Asbestos Exposure Occurs
How Can Asbestos Exposure Occur in the Home?
Asbestos exposure at home may occur when asbestos products are disturbed due to the following:
- Renovation projects
- Maintenance projects
- A fire or natural disaster
- Flooding or water damage
- Aging / breakdown of the home
Asbestos exposure can occur anywhere in the house. Common sources of asbestos exposure in the home include:
- Crawl spaces
Asbestos Exposure in the Attic
Some products, such as vermiculite attic insulation, have well-documented ties to asbestos contamination.
The EPA suggests up to 70% of the vermiculite sold in the United States between 1919 and 1990 was mined in Libby, Montana and may have been contaminated with asbestos.
Homeowners with vermiculite insulation should assume it contains asbestos. The insulation should not be disturbed to avoid unnecessary exposure.
Other Examples of At-Home Asbestos Exposure Scenarios
- Asbestos was commonly used as an insulator.
- The mineral can be found in pipe insulation in older homes.
- Homeowners should not remove/replace pipe insulation on their own in homes built before the 1980s.
- Drywall installed before the 1980s may contain asbestos.
- Homeowners should take precaution before drilling into drywall from this period.
- If homeowners plan to do remodeling or maintenance of drywall from the 1980s, a professional should test the area.
- Asbestos was often used in friction materials, such as car brakes, made before the 1980s.
- Brakes or other car parts from this period should not be repaired in home garages.
- Some foreign car parts may also still contain asbestos and should be handled by a mechanic.
The only definitive way to determine whether a questionable product contains asbestos is to have a professional test for it. In the meantime, it’s best to limit damage and avoid handling materials suspected to contain asbestos until the tests are complete.
04. Limiting Exposure in the Home
How to Limit Asbestos Exposure in the Home
There are several ways homeowners can be proactive about potential asbestos in their homes and avoid exposure. Avoiding areas of the home that may contain asbestos, monitoring the home for damaged materials and calling licensed professionals to test for asbestos can prevent exposure.
Exposure can occur anytime asbestos-containing materials are damaged or disturbed. Today, the risk of asbestos exposure is a concern due to older houses undergoing renovations and remodeling. Concerns regarding asbestos exposure are especially great when work on the home is do-it-yourself (DIY).
A licensed professional should perform testing for asbestos if a home has:
- Crumbling or damaged materials
- Planned remodeling or renovations
Asbestos testing allows the homeowner to take action and have the asbestos materials safely removed before any professional or do-it-yourself work occurs in the home.
05. Asbestos Found in the Home
What to Do When Asbestos Is Found in Your Home
In general, asbestos materials are considered safe when they are in good condition and there are no signs of damage.
If the material is damaged or worn, a professional may suggest removing or encapsulating the product. Encapsulation involves covering the materials with a sealant to prevent airborne fibers.
At no point should a homeowner attempt to perform removal of asbestos on their own.
According to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), there is no safe level of asbestos exposure. Improper handling of the material could release fibers into the air, creating a health hazard.
Asbestos Safety Dos and Don’ts
Asbestos in the home can be very dangerous if disturbed or damaged. Homes built before the 1980s may be built with asbestos-containing materials.
Suspected asbestos-containing materials should be handled by professionals to avoid dangerous exposure.
- Avoid asbestos-containing materials.
- Do not damage asbestos-containing materials.
- When buying a home, talk to the home inspector and realtor about any known asbestos in the home.
- Hire asbestos abatement professionals to complete all testing, removal or encapsulation of materials.
- If razing a home, have the home inspected before demolition to ensure all hazardous materials are handled properly.
- Don’t sand, saw, scrape, drill or otherwise disturb asbestos-containing materials.
- Don’t use a vacuum or broom to clean disturbed asbestos materials.
- Do not attempt to collect samples of suspected asbestos-containing materials for testing.
- Do not have asbestos-containing materials removed by professionals unless encapsulation is impossible.
- Don’t throw asbestos-containing materials in your regular trash.
Why You Should Not Use an At-Home Asbestos Test Kit
Asbestos materials are dangerous any time fibers are airborne. Unqualified homeowners attempting to test suspected asbestos materials on their own can cause a larger health hazard than the undisturbed asbestos materials.
At-home test kits can put homeowners and their families at risk of dangerous exposure. To collect samples for testing, the suspected hazardous materials must be disturbed. This can cause airborne fibers.
If an at-home asbestos test kit must be used, homeowners should:
- Turn off the heating and cooling system to prevent the fibers from traveling through the home
- Wear an N95 respirator
- Wear disposable gloves and wash hands afterward
- Ensure no one else is in the room
- Wet the material
- Dispose of asbestos material according to state and local laws
*More tips for at-home removal are on the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission’s website.
Although at-home asbestos test kits may seem more economical than hiring a professional, the costs related to asbestos-related diseases are far greater.
How Much Does Professional Asbestos Testing Cost?
The cost of professional asbestos testing varies. The number of samples needed, type of testing completed on the samples and part of the country can all impact cost. According to data from HomeAdvisor, the national average for asbestos testing is $495.
Example Costs of Professional Asbestos Testing
Los Angeles, California
Average Cost: $372
Kansas City, Missouri
Average Cost: $461
New York State
Average Cost: $787
The cost of professionals is well worth it to prevent:
- Dangerous exposure
- Health problems
- Expensive medical bills
06. Preventive Actions to Protect Homeowners
Preventive Actions to Protect Homeowners From Asbestos Exposure
Exposure to asbestos can cause deadly related diseases. Preventing asbestos exposure is the best course of action homeowners can take to protect themselves and their families.
Preventing asbestos exposure is often twofold:
- Addressing potential health risks connected to known or suspected asbestos exposure
- Passing legislation and guidelines (on the local, state and federal levels) regarding the safe removal of asbestos from homes and other potential exposure sources
How Frequent Doctor Visits Can Help Asbestos-Exposed Homeowners
When homeowners experience known or suspected asbestos exposure in the home, it can be very scary. Asbestos exposure causes no immediate symptoms. There is also no clear medical procedure to identify if exposure has occurred in the past. As a result, the path forward can be unclear.
If individuals suspect they have been exposed to asbestos, they should speak with a medical professional.
A doctor can monitor for the signs and symptoms of asbestos-related diseases, such as mesothelioma.
- Chest pain
- Fluid buildup
- CT scans
How Federal Asbestos Regulations Protect Homeowners
Federal regulations have reduced the amount of asbestos used in construction and manufacturing. In 1973, the United States used more than 800,000 tons of asbestos, compared to only a few hundred tons today.
Although reducing asbestos use is good, without a complete ban, homeowners are still at risk. People are still coming into contact with items containing asbestos at home and/or on the job.
It is imperative for homeowners to understand:
- Where asbestos-containing materials are most likely to be found
- What common products may contain the mineral
- How to protect themselves and others should they come into contact with asbestos
The EPA’s National Emission Standards for Hazardous Air Pollutants (NESHAP) help protect air quality and reduce health risks presented by various contaminants, such as asbestos.
These NESHAP regulations create safety standards for:
NESHAP also covers asbestos waste transportation and disposal. The standards ensure landfills are properly equipped and qualified to receive asbestos materials.
The U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) also has several bans in place related to certain asbestos-containing materials, such as artificial ashes and embers found in fireplaces.
These regulations aim to reduce asbestos exposure inside and outside the home.
The banning and limitation of certain asbestos uses reduces the amount of exposure future generations may experience.
Federal agencies, including the EPA, OSHA and the CPSC, work together to ensure all asbestos removed from homes and businesses is carefully discarded. Proper disposal of asbestos waste helps eliminate additional opportunities for exposure.
Asbestos in the home can be serious. Asbestos regulations are an important part of asbestos safety.
Homeowners should also investigate the age of their home. If built before the 1980s, a professional should inspect the home for asbestos.