An Introductory Guide to Asbestos

Asbestos-containing materials can be found in homes and offices around the world. Once a popular material, asbestos was used during the manufacturing of many different building products due to its fireproofing properties. In drywall and other building materials, it was used to help protect the structure and those who occupy the space, as fire would not spread as quickly with the asbestos materials in the products. However, in the 1970s, a concern that asbestos was a carcinogen that could be potentially dangerous made the US EPA take action to regulate its use. Since then, home and business owners have become concerned about the health and safety of those who utilize the space, especially in structures that were built before 1980.

With asbestos, the main concern is when asbestos becomes disturbed, putting people at risk of breathing in the tiny particles. Asbestos discovery inside a building could mean costly removal services to have it completely removed and the building renovated with new materials. Yet, if asbestos is found, management options include removal, encapsulation, enclosure, or management in place. If you’re concerned about asbestos in your home or office, read this guide to learn everything you need to know about what it is, how to deal with it, and when to call in the licensed professionals.

Types of Asbestos

Asbestos is a mineral that is naturally occurring. Since it was determined to provide fireproofing properties, it makes sense as to why it was then used in a large number of building materials including insulation, paper, ceiling tiles, floor tiles, and more. The goal was to reduce the potential for a fire to spread, giving those inside the building more time to escape and control the fire so less space would become damaged.

Six asbestos minerals exist, and these can be broken down into two main types of asbestos, according to the US Environmental Protection Agency.

The most common type of asbestos used today is a type of Serpentine asbestos called Chrysotile. This is often referred to as white asbestos due to its coloring, and Chrysotile is what is discovered the majority of the time when someone finds asbestos has been used in their home or building. This mineral is often used for fire doors, drywall or plaster, caulking, brake pads, curtains, floor tiles, sheet flooring, and ceiling tiles.

The other type of asbestos is Amphibole. Amphibole asbestos minerals include actinolite, amosite, anthophyllite, crocidolite, and tremolite. This type of asbestos was often used in products like insulating board, insulation cement sheets, and ceiling tiles. It was also used in cigarettes, artificial snow, and brake pads. This type of asbestos has been banned for manufacturing in certain building materials in the United States since the 1980s. It can still be found though in homes or offices that were last renovated before the ban went into effect.

Though some asbestos building materials have been banned, there are still some types of asbestos that are being used in the manufacture of different products around the world. The US government officially recognizes the six asbestos minerals listed here, but there is the potential for as-yet-undiscovered types of asbestos to exist. Where asbestos does exist, it can contaminate other products like talc and vermiculite, often used in talcum powder and garden soil, respectively. In recent years, however, strict regulations have been implemented for the production of talc to help prevent exposure.

Identification of Asbestos

Some asbestos products are banned, but not completely or by all countries. There are still many widely available products that may include asbestos. These products include wraps for pipes, cement pipes, brake pads, roof coatings, and floor and ceiling tiles. Because of the regulations there are now plenty of asbestos-free options available. Property owners who own a home or building that was constructed before the 1980s, however, have a greater potential for asbestos to still be in the home. Before the regulations in the 1980s, asbestos was commonly used throughout the US, so many homes and businesses built during this period may have materials that include asbestos in them.

Unfortunately, it is impossible to tell if something contains asbestos without proper laboratory testing. The easiest way to find out if something has asbestos in it is to find a product label that includes that information; however, most products will no longer have labels on them. When there is no label, a sample of the suspect material will need to be tested. Those who are purchasing a home or building built before the 1980s or who already own one, may want to have an EPA accredited asbestos building inspector do an inspection to determine if there is asbestos in the building. If the home or building in question has crumbling drywall, tiles, or insulation, even if no plans are in place for an immediate renovation, the materials should be tested by a licensed asbestos inspector right away. If there is asbestos and the materials are damaged or falling apart, a licensed asbestos inspector should be employed to determine the potential risk and a licensed management planner to best management option to control the risk. A licensed asbestos inspector can safely collect samples without releasing asbestos fibers into the air and risking exposure.

Why Asbestos Removal is Dangerous

When asbestos is undisturbed, it is generally not a health risk as long as the material is still in good condition. If there are asbestos tiles in a home or business, for instance, as long as they are not being removed and are not damaged, there is not much potential for exposure. The asbestos is bound in the material used to create the tiles and will remain there as long as there is no damage, deterioration, or breakage. The problem with asbestos appears when the material containing it is disturbed, deteriorated, or destroyed. This releases the fibers, which can be entrained in the air and easily inhaled. Asbestos exposure due to released fibers has been linked to severe health problems, including various types of cancer.

It is not guaranteed that someone who comes in contact with asbestos fibers will develop health issues. However, once asbestos fibers have reached the lungs, they cannot be removed. A higher number of asbestos fibers is linked to a higher chance of developing a severe illness from exposure. Those who are at a higher risk of developing the following health problems are those who worked with asbestos before the bans were put in place in the 1980s.

Mesothelioma – Mesothelioma is a type of cancer impacting the linings of organs in the chest and abdomen. Asbestos is the only cause of mesothelioma so far, and the time between exposure and a diagnosis can be 30 years. This is a rare form of cancer, but the five-year survival rate for mesothelioma is less than 20%.

Lung Cancer – Lung cancer, commonly associated with smoking, can also be caused by asbestos exposure. It often appears around 15 years after exposure to asbestos. While smoking does increase the risk, it has been connected to asbestos, even in people who have never smoked.

Asbestosis – Repeated exposure to asbestos could lead to chronic lung diseases called asbestosis. This typically occurs after prolonged exposure, up to 40 years, and causes scarring in the lungs that leads to trouble breathing. Though there are no cures available, treatments can help slow the progression of asbestosis.

Laws and Regulations Regarding Asbestos in the US

Many countries have banned asbestos completely, but the US is not one of them. There was an attempt to ban asbestos by the EPA in the 1980s, but it was defeated. If it had gone into effect, it would have phased out and completely stopped the use of asbestos within the US. There are regulations governing the use of asbestos in products today, and the use has gone down significantly, but there are still products on the market that contain asbestos. These products must follow EPA regulations, and there cannot be any new uses of the material, but if asbestos was used to create a product before the 1980s, it could still be used in production today.

Asbestos use is completely banned for roll board, corrugated, commercial and specialty paper, and for flooring felt. However, it can still be used in many other products found in homes and commercial buildings. Still, most companies have stopped using asbestos. Now, the EPA is trying to implement a new rule that states that if a company voluntarily stops using asbestos in their product, they cannot start using it again without a notification to the agency.

How You Might be Exposed to Asbestos

Though the use of asbestos is much lower than it was before the 1980s, it is still possible to be exposed to it. Those who come into contact with it as part of their job, like contractors working on renovations of older buildings, are at a higher risk of potential exposure. Still, there are times when people may be exposed to asbestos in homes or office buildings. Some of the times this can happen include the following:

Removing Floor Tiles – vinyl floor tiles were commonly used in homes and businesses. Asbestos was often used in the creation of these floor tiles as a way to make them more fireproof. Though the tiles not a health risk if they are undisturbed, home and business owners can be exposed if the tiles are broken, deteriorated, or removed.

Removing Roofing Shingles – Asbestos cement was frequently used in roofing shingles and siding. When the shingles are broken or removed from the building, it can release asbestos fibers into the air. While the risk of exposure outdoors is lower, there is still a risk.

Removing or Replacing Insulation – Insulation installed before the 1950s is likely to contain asbestos. After the 1950s, fiberglass insulation became more popular. Those in a building constructed before the 1970s may want to be cautious during any renovation, as asbestos could be in the insulation. It could also be in the joint compound used on walls and ceilings, so it could be released by removing drywall or getting rid of the popcorn ceiling texture.

Repairing or Replacing Plumbing – Asbestos insulation was used to cover hot water pipes. Older pipes may also be covered with asbestos tape or blankets. Accessing the plumbing by cutting into the cover can release the asbestos fibers.

Signs of Exposure to Asbestos

The biggest problem with asbestos exposure is that signs of it may not appear for decades. Often, those who develop significant health issues like mesothelioma might not have any symptoms for 30 to 40 years after their exposure. The leading cause of asbestos-related health issues is the fibers being inhaled into the lungs, so lung-related symptoms are the most common. These symptoms can include shortness of breath, a hoarse voice, wheezing, chest pain, a persistent cough, fatigue, anemia, and weight loss. Other symptoms can include a bloody cough, or a loss of appetite. Signs of asbestosis or peritoneal mesothelioma can include pain, swelling, abdominal distention, feelings of fullness, fevers, and fatigue, or unexplained weight loss.

Minor and temporary exposure often doesn’t lead to serious health problems. In most cases, asbestos exposure is accumulative. Several short-term exposures will eventually add up to something that could have a big impact, but a one-time short exposure isn’t likely to lead to major health concerns down the road. It is important to remember that the asbestos fibers are tiny and cannot be seen in the air, so it can be difficult to tell if someone has been exposed.

Conducting an Asbestos Survey

An asbestos survey or inspection can be done on a building or home to determine if there is asbestos, what risk there is of exposure, and what needs to be done to prevent exposure in the future. This can include testing of materials that can contain asbestos and must be done by a licensed asbestos building inspector in most cases. A survey can ensure home and business owners know what their risks are, whether removal or other control action needs to be done, and what exactly needs to be done to reduce the risk to building occupants.

Those who are living in a home that was built before the 1980s may want to have an asbestos survey done by a licensed asbestos building inspector before doing any renovation or replacing the insulation. They should also have one done if there are any materials in disrepair that could contain asbestos, such as the drywall or the tile flooring. If they find material that is in the home that could contain asbestos and it has been damaged or will need to be removed, hiring licensed professionals for help is the best way to reduce the risk of exposure.

Business owners in a building constructed before the 1980s are required by federal law to have a survey done by a licensed asbestos building inspector if repairs are needed for the building if they’re planning a renovation or demolition. As asbestos can be in a variety of materials used in the construction of the building, it’s best to have a survey done if anything that could contain asbestos is damaged. Doing an asbestos survey ahead of repairs or renovations is required by law and can ensure that asbestos is handled in accordance with applicable regulations to reduce exposure for contractors, employees, and clients.

Asbestos Removal

Home and business owners will want to opt for a licensed asbestos abatement contractor for help if they need to remove asbestos-containing products. One option is to leave the materials in place and cover them with newer products. Tiles, for instance, can be placed over existing asbestos tiles in many instances, ensuring the asbestos tiles are entirely covered and will not be disturbed, however, regulations require disclosure of the asbestos materials left in place when the property is sold. A better option is to contract with a licensed asbestos abatement contractor to handle the entire removal process in order to reduce the risk of litigation from exposure.

Licensed asbestos abatement contractors take care to remove all asbestos in line with current EPA regulations and safety guidelines to ensure the fibers cannot get into the air or travel to other parts of the home or business. Safety critical barriers are set up, negative pressure established, and the HVAC systems and air ducts are turned off and covered to prevent the fibers from moving outside of the negative pressure containment area. All surfaces will be covered with poly sheeting to prevent dust that could contain asbestos. After the safety barriers are set up, the licensed asbestos abatement contractor’s employees wear protective equipment to handle the removal carefully and will use monitors to check the air for any fibers. Any materials that are suspected of containing asbestos will be sealed in waste bags and placed in a container with a protective covering. Once the removal is done, the entire area within the safety critical barriers will be wiped down and cleaned. Air samples will be taken by an independent licensed asbestos project monitor to ensure that the clearance criteria is met before the area can be entered and used again by the home or business owner.

Hiring a Licensed Asbestos Abatement Contractor

Before hiring a licensed asbestos abatement contractor, home and business owners may want to look into local rules or regulations for asbestos removal and abatement. Then, they should have an asbestos survey done by a licensed asbestos building inspector to determine what materials could have asbestos in them and will need to be removed. Once this is done, they can work on finding the correct licensed asbestos abatement contractor to handle the removal. Proper research is vital here, as it is crucial to choose a company that has the right training and experience with asbestos removal, and that is going to be able to get the job done quickly and correctly. Once a licensed asbestos abatement contractor is hired, it’s recommended to get a plan in writing for the removal and to request a written certification that all of the work was done in accordance with applicable regulations once the asbestos-containing materials are removed from the building.

Home and business owners who need to hire licensed professionals that will handle the inspection or plan of action of asbestos removal should contact AirQuest Environmental, Inc. Our company has years of experience working with asbestos and is familiar with regulations designed to keep business owners and employees safe. We employ the latest technology during the inspection process as well as follow all necessary precautions to keep everyone safe from exposure.

Minimize Asbestos Exposure Before Removal

Before the removal is done, home and business owners need to be aware of what they can do to help minimize possible exposure. Since it is not possible to determine if a material contains asbestos without a label or a positive laboratory test result, it is necessary to be cautious when dealing with any materials that could include asbestos. The main rule is to avoid disturbing the material at all. It’s not a good idea to cut into it, break it, move it, or cause any damage to the material, as any disturbance can lead to asbestos in the air.

Those who are planning on purchasing a home or a building for their business will want to take a little longer to complete the purchase and have an asbestos inspection done. This helps identify possible materials that could have asbestos, so the price for the building can be adjusted to ensure the removal can be done correctly. It also can show that there may be a lot of asbestos-containing materials in the building, which means the home or business owner may want to pass and look for something else.

Though asbestos is naturally occurring, it can be hazardous, and exposure can lead to serious health complications. Home and business owners would do well to be wary about potential exposure and, when faced with the possibility of exposure, contact a licensed professional for help. Contact AirQuest Environmental, Inc. to get help with an asbestos survey and testing to determine if any materials in the building do contain asbestos. AirQuest will also work with the home or business owner to create and implement a plan for removal, encapsulation, enclosure, or management in place. If you’re worried about asbestos in your home or building, contact us today to get the help you need to stay safe.