Frequently asked questions
What is Asbestos?
Asbestos is the name given to a group of six different fibrous minerals (amosite, chrysotile, crocidolite, tremolite, actinolite, and anthophyllite) that occur naturally in the environment. Asbestos minerals have separable fibers that are strong and flexible enough to be spun and woven and are heat resistant. Because of these characteristics, asbestos has been used for a wide range of manufactured goods, mostly in building materials (roofing shingles, ceiling and floor tiles, paper products, and asbestos cement products), friction products (automobile clutch, brake, and transmission parts), heat-resistant fabrics, packaging, gaskets, and coatings. Some vermiculite or talc products may contain asbestos.
Why Is Asbestos Hazardous?
Asbestos is made up of microscopic fibers that can easily become airborne and inhaled. Because of their shape, the asbestos particles cling to tissues of the lungs and other areas of the respiratory system. The fibers are too durable for the immune system to break them down and remove them, and they cause scarring and inflammation over time that can eventually develop into tumors.
Asbestos can cause many health risks, including cancer and chronic respiratory illnesses. It can take 10 – 50 years from the time of exposure for conditions to develop, making them difficult to diagnose in early stages and often resulting in a poor prognosis.
Mesothelioma: This aggressive cancer forms in the thin membrane (mesothelium) that protects vital organs in the chest and abdomen. Exposure to asbestos is the only medically-verified cause of the disease.
Lung Cancer: Most commonly associated with factors like smoking and radon, lung cancer is also known to be exacerbated by exposure to asbestos. Researchers have found that about 3 – 4% of lung cancer diagnoses are asbestos related.
Asbestosis: This degenerative respiratory condition results from the formation of scar tissue plaques on the surface of the pleura lung tissue (lung linings). It can be a precursor to the onset of mesothelioma.
According to the EPA, there is no safe level of asbestos exposure. Despite this fact, asbestos is not yet banned in the U.S., and may still be present in old buildings, homes and household items. Millions of people have been exposed to asbestos due to its extensive use, with researchers estimating that at least 20 million people are at risk of developing mesothelioma at some point in their lives.
What is asbestos "abatement" or an abatement job?
Abatement means any type of disturbance such as removal, enclosure, encapsulation or repair. Because disturbing asbestos may release fibers into the air, there are regulations for abatement activities and training/certification requirements for those who do it.
Is There Asbestos in My Home?
Many homes built before 1980 contain asbestos in old floor tiles, ceiling tiles, roof shingles and flashing, siding, insulation (around boilers, ducts, pipes, sheeting, fireplaces), pipe cement, and joint compound used on seams between pieces of sheetrock. Some newer houses may also contain asbestos.
Some homes may also contain vermiculite attic insulation contaminated with asbestos. Property damage claims can no longer be filed against W.R. Grace for Zonolite related property damages. The deadline for filing a Canadian claim was August 31, 2009.
How to check for Asbestos in my home?
A visual inspection of your home is usually not sufficient to determine if it contains asbestos. Instead, samples of suspected asbestos fibers should be sent to a certified laboratory for analysis.
Polarized Light Microscopy (PLM) and Transmission Electron Microscopy (TEM) are two approved methods of analysis. The National Institute for Standards and Technology maintains web lists of laboratories certified to do TEM and PLM analysis.
Although the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) provides detailed guidance about how to collect samples that may contain asbestos, the American Lung Association instead recommends that you hire a certified asbestos professional to take any samples. Hiring a professional can minimize asbestos exposure for you and your family.
What If I Find Asbestos in My House?
The method used for dealing with asbestos in the home depends upon where the asbestos is found, the condition of the material, and whether it is friable or non-friable. Friable asbestos can be easily crumbled or reduced to a powder and can become airborne. Non-friable asbestos is more tightly bound with another material and its fibers cannot easily be made airborne unless they are sanded, cut, or sawed.
If asbestos-containing material is currently in good condition and contained such that fibers cannot be released, then it may not be dangerous at this time. However, the situation should be monitored for signs of asbestos deterioration and damage.
Asbestos removal is the only permanent solution to the problem of asbestos in the home. However, removal poses a high risk of fiber release if not done properly. Air samples should be taken after the work is completed to ensure the safety of the homeowner. During the removal process, the contractor should use a HEPA vacuum, approved respirators, and disposable clothing.