ASBESTOS FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS
IS THIS ASBESTOS?
There is no way to tell if an object contains asbestos from a photo or description.
If you want to know whether something is an Asbestos Containing Material (ACM) you need to bring a sample of it to a lab to have it tested. Carefully scrape/remove a small portion of the subject material, place it in a baggy, and bring it to your local testing lab to have them run tests on whether it contains asbestos. When in doubt, treat it as if it contains asbestos and take all necessary precautions until proven otherwise.
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I FOUND ASBESTOS IN MY HOUSE. WHAT DO I DO?
First, don't panic. Realize that asbestos only becomes a hazard when it becomes friable (easily crumbled) causing it to become airborn and inhaled into the lungs. While any level of asbestos exposure is considered hazardous, the major risks come from prolonged exposure over a number of years. If you have ACM's in your home, there are steps you can take to either remove (abatement), or cover up (encapsulate) the asbestos to reduce the hazard that asbestos poses to your health.
If you decide on removal, you can reach out to local abatement contractors who should have undergone special training in asbestos abatement. They will seal off the work areas and create an area of negative pressure to prevent spread of asbestos fibers.
The alternative to abatement is encapsulation. If you have, say, asbestos containing floor tiles that are in rough shape, you can add a layer of flooring, epoxy, or other permanent measure to prevent any damage from the underlying asbestos containing tiles. Once the risk of damage to the ACM is removed to prevent the tiles from becoming friable, the hazard of asbestos is contained.
I REMOVED OLD TILES IN 1950S RAMBLER TODAY. HOW MUCH ASBESTOS COULD HAVE BEEN RELEASED?
I'm a licensed asbestos inspector. You are fine. The amount of exposure from anything short of pulverizing ACM tile is minimal. If you want to walk yourself off the ledge a bit, try putting a few box fans pointed outwards at several windows and let them run for a day or two. Keep your furnace fan on for a few days and change the air filter after a day or two. You can buy a section of hepa filter to use as well. But only use that for around a day as it may be too restrictive for your furnace fan. If you are worried about the remaining mastic, purchase some encapulant to cover the remaining glue. Buy something rated for flooring and be sure it won't restrict or damage whatever flooring you plan to put in over the top.
To expand on this a bit, no one really knows at what point asbestos becomes a hazard to human health so there is considered to be no safe level of exposure. Yes a majority of the people who had issues in past years were factory workers who were around it for years, but that doesn't mean that you will not have an adverse reaction after minimal exposure. If you encounter suspect asbestos, it is always best to treat it with care and have it tested. A major portion of the caution surrounding it is that we know it is hazardous, and can be deadly, but we don't have enough data to establish safe exposure criteria. We do know that most of the identifiable asbestos related diseases are correlated with high exposure for extended periods of time.
WHERE SHOULD I EXPECT TO FIND ASBESTOS?
Asbestos was used in a number of applications from floor to ceiling in homes from the late 1800's through the mid to late 1900's. If you have a home that is 40+ years old, there is always a potential to encounter ACM's. A general list of where these can be typically encountered in home constructed prior to the 1980's is:
Pipe and boiler and duct coverings (thermal system insulation)
Roofing, shingles and siding
Floor tiles and vinyl flooring, backing and mastic
Vermiculite attic insulation
Plaster, cement, putties and caulk
Ceiling tiles and spray-on coatings (acoustic and fireproofing)
Popcorn ceilings & spray on ceiling textures
This should by no means be considered a complete list of areas of the home where asbestos will be found, and any suspect material should be taken to an independent lab for testing.
Once the adverse health effects of asbestos were determined, a series of bans were implemented throughout the 1970's and 1980's. While new construction should not have any ACM's, older homes still have a lot of material that is original to the house and may contain asbestos. Bear in mind that there may be some leftover stock materials that were used up after the bans went into effect, as the bans mostly pertained to manufacturing of asbestos materials.
HOW CAN I PROTECT MYSELF WHILE WORKING WITH ASBESTOS?
While asbestos abatement is typically best left to the pros, a lot of jurisdictions allow homeowners to remove asbestos from their own homes. If you encounter asbestos, it is strongly recommended that you hire a qualified contractor to remove it for you. Should you choose to remediate or abate yourself, it is best to take proper precautions.
First off, completely seal off the area, and have a secondary containment or exterior exit to the home where you can remove contaminated clothing and coveralls without bringing them into the rest of the living space. It would be best if you could create an area of negative pressure by use of box fans or vent fans pulling air to the outside to further prevent the spread of asbestos into the home.
While you are in the contaminated area, invest in some tyvek suits with a hood to cover your body from head to toe, as well as booties and gloves. Wear a respirator that is rated by NIOSH at either N100, P100, or R100. Dust masks are not sufficient protection from asbestos. Asbestos particles are too small to be collected by common dust masks.
Note: All PPE should be considered one time use when dealing with asbestos, including your respirator filters. All PPE should be properly disposed of prior to leaving your decontamination area, and new equipment should be used at the start of each work session.
Cleaning up should also be done with care. Where possible, the area should be kept wet to trap the fibers and prevent them from becoming airborne. The wet dust should be mopped or wiped up, and double bags in properly labeled bags for disposal. If you must vacuum the area, be sure to use a properly rated HEPA vacuum with a filter rated for asbestos. Use of a non-HEPA rated vacuum will spread the asbestos particles, creating a further hazard. Prior to breaking down your containment area, all exposed surfaces should be wet wiped to remove all dust that may have ACM's.