Building Materials Containing Asbestos and What to do With Asbestos in the Home and Workplace

Background
Where Can Asbestos Be Found
Steam Pipes, Boilers and Furnace Ducts
Floor Tiles
Cement Sheet, Millboard and Paper
Soundproofing, Decorative Materials and Textured Paints
Asbestos Cement Roofing, Shingles and Siding
What Should You Do If Your Home Contains Asbestos
What Happens When Asbestos is Repaired
How is Asbestos Removed
How To Identify Materials That Contain Asbestos

Background

Asbestos is the name given to a number of naturally occurring, fibrous silicate minerals mined for their useful properties such as thermal insulation, chemical and thermal stability and high tensile strength. Asbestos is commonly used as an acoustic insulator, and in thermal insulation, fire proofing and other building materials. Many products in use today contain asbestos.

Asbestos is made up of microscopic bundles of fibres that may become airborne when asbestos containing materials are damaged or disturbed. When these fibers get into the air they may be inhaled into the lungs, where they can cause significant health problems. This article looks at where asbestos can be found and what to do if you encounter it at home or in the workplace.

Where Can Asbestos Be Found?

Most products made today do not contain asbestos. Those few products made which still contain asbestos that could be inhaled are required to be labeled as such. However, until the 1970s, many types of building products and insulation materials used in homes contained asbestos. Common products that might have contained asbestos in the past, and conditions which may release fibers, include:

Steam Pipes, Boilers and Furnace Ducts

Steam Pipes, Boilers and Furnace Ducts may be insulated with an asbestos blanket or asbestos paper tape. If damaged, repaired or removed improperly these materials may release asbestos fibers.

Floor Tiles

Asbestos was used in various vinyl, asphalt and rubber floor tiles, vinyl sheet flooring backing and floor tile adhesive. Sanding or scraping when removing floor tiles or sheet may release asbestos fibres.

Cement Sheet, Millboard and Paper

Cement sheet, millboard and paper used as insulation around furnaces and woodburning stoves. Repairing or removing appliances may release asbestos fibers. So may cutting, tearing, sanding, drilling or sawing insulation. Worn seals and door gaskets on furnaces and stoves may also release fibres.

Soundproofing, Decorative Materials and Textured Paints

Sprayed soundproofing or decorative material on walls and ceilings may contain asbestos. Loose, crumbly, or water-damaged material may release fibers. So will sanding, drilling or scraping the material. This includes patching, joint compounds and textured paints.

Asbestos Cement Roofing, Shingles and Siding

Although asbestos cement roofing, shingles and siding all contain asbestos fibres, they are not likely to release asbestos fibers unless sawed, drilled or cut.

What Should You Do If Your Home Contains Asbestos

If you think asbestos may be in your home, don't panic. Usually the best thing is to leave asbestos material that is in good condition alone. Generally, material in good condition will not release asbestos fibers.

Check material regularly if you suspect it may contain asbestos. Don't touch it, but look for signs of wear or damage such as tears, abrasions, or water damage. Damaged material may release asbestos fibers. This is particularly true if you often disturb it by hitting, rubbing, or handling it, or if it is exposed to extreme vibration or air flow.

Sometimes the best way to deal with slightly damaged material is to limit access to the area and not touch or disturb it. Discard damaged or worn asbestos gloves, stove-top pads, or ironing board covers. Check with local health, environmental, or other appropriate officials to find out proper handling and disposal procedures.

If asbestos material is more than slightly damaged, or if you are going to make changes in your home that might disturb it, repair or removal by a professional is needed. Before you have your house remodeled, find out whether asbestos materials are present.

What Happens When Asbestos is Repaired

Repair usually involves either sealing or covering asbestos material.

Sealing (encapsulation) involves treating the material with a sealant that either binds the asbestos fibers together or coats the material so fibers are not released. Pipe, furnace and boiler insulation can sometimes be repaired this way. This should be done only by a professional trained to handle asbestos safely.

Covering (enclosure) involves placing something over or around the material that contains asbestos to prevent release of fibers. Exposed insulated piping may be covered with a protective wrap or jacket.

With any type of repair, the asbestos remains in place. Repair is usually cheaper than removal, but it may make later removal of asbestos, if necessary, more difficult and costly. Repairs can either be major or minor.

How is Asbestos Removed

Removal is usually the most expensive method of dealing with asbestos and unless required by state or local regulations, should be the last option considered in most situations. This is because removal poses the greatest risk of fiber release. However, removal may be required when remodeling or making major changes to your home that will disturb asbestos material. Also, removal may be called for if asbestos material is damaged extensively and cannot be otherwise repaired. Removal is complex and must be done only by a contractor with special training. Improper removal may actually increase the health risks to you and your family.

How To Identify Materials That Contain Asbestos

You can't tell whether a material contains asbestos simply by looking at it, unless it is labeled. If in doubt, treat the material as if it contains asbestos or have it sampled and analyzed by a qualified professional. A professional should take samples for analysis, since a professional knows what to look for, and because there may be an increased health risk if fibers are released. In fact, if done incorrectly, sampling can be more hazardous than leaving the material alone. Taking samples yourself is not recommended. Material that is in good condition and will not be disturbed (by remodeling, for example) should be left alone. Only material that is damaged or will be disturbed should be sampled.

Source: US EPA and AZoCleantech

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