For centuries, asbestos, a naturally occurring mineral, has been seen as the ideal construction material. Since the Industrial Revolution, it has been used in many building. In fact, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has estimated that several hundreds of thousands of structures were installed with asbestos-containing materials. Many of these buildings have had the asbestos removed, but many have kept this dangerous mineral in place. This list of structures includes schools, office buildings and homes. If your house was built, renovated or worked on before the 1980s, your home may contain asbestos.
Asbestos is dangerous because, when broken, it released fibers that can lodge in the lungs and the surrounding tissue known as the mesothelium and cause mesothelioma. Once there, the asbestos fiber damages cells, causing them to divide rapidly. This creates the deadly tumors that invade organs and put pressure on the lungs.
In homes, asbestos was often used as insulation. It was commonly found in a blanket or tape form, wrapped around steam pipes, furnace ducts or boilers. It was also used in cement and millboard used around furnaces. Other products included floor tiles, furnace or wood stove gaskets, soundproofing and textured material sprayed on walls and ceilings. It could also be found in roofing, shingles and siding. Patching and joint compounds often contained asbestos as well.
Asbestos can also exist in any vermiculite-based insulation in your home. Vermiculite is a safe mineral that has been widely used for insulating homes but is often contaminated with asbestos. If you have any of this type of insulation in your home, assume it is contaminated and treat it as such until you confirm the findings through laboratory testing.
It is important to remember that asbestos-containing products are not necessarily a danger to the residents of a home. As long as the products remain solid, asbestos fibers are not being released into the air. The risk of developing mesothelioma from living in a home that contains asbestos is, therefore, usually very low.
However, if the asbestos-containing materials are somehow disturbed – if a tile is cracked, insulation is broken or panels are drilled, sawed, hammered or cut – asbestos fibers could become airborne. Because of this, it is important to keep a close watch on asbestos-containing materials. If the material breaks, a qualified expert must remove it.
Asbestos inspectors are available for hire if you want to determine whether asbestos is or might be a problem in your home. Be sure the inspector thoroughly examines every part of your home and collects samples of any suspected asbestos-containing material for lab analysis.
If these professionals determine that you do have asbestos in your home, avoid it. If you absolutely must repair or remove the asbestos, don't work on the materials yourself. Trained professionals have the proper equipment to safely remove the deadly fibers and better protect you and your family.