Asbestos is a natural fiber that was widely used as a spray-on material for fireproofing, insulation, and soundproofing in schools, homes, and public buildings from the 1940s through the 1970s. It does not pose health risks unless it deteriorates and becomes crumbly, when it can release microscopic asbestos fibers into the air. When asbestos fibers are inhaled, they can cause chronic health problems to the lungs, throat, and gastrointestinal tract, including a rare type of chest cancer (called mesothelioma) that can occur as long as five decades after asbestos exposure.
Today, schools are mandated by law to either remove asbestos or otherwise ensure that children are not exposed to it. However, it is still in some older homes, especially as insulation around pipes, stoves, and furnaces, as well as in walls and ceilings.
Locations in Homes Where Asbestos May Be:
- Insulation around pipes, stoves, and furnaces (the most common locations)
- Insulation in walls and ceilings, such as sprayed-on or troweled-on material or vermiculite attic insulation.
- Patching and spackling compounds and textured paint
- Roofing shingles and siding
- Older appliances, such as washers and dryers
- Older floor tiles
Determining Whether Your Home Contains Asbestos:
- Evaluate appliances and other consumer products by examining the label or the invoices to obtain the product name, model number, and year of manufacture. If this information is available, the manufacturer can supply information about asbestos content.
- Evaluate building materials. A professional asbestos manager with qualifications similar to those of managers employed in school districts may be hired. This person can inspect your home to determine whether asbestos is present and give advice on its proper management.
- Test for asbestos. State and local health departments as well as regional EPA offices have lists of individuals and laboratories certified to analyze a home for asbestos and test samples for the presence of asbestos.
If Asbestos Is Found in Your Home:
In most cases, asbestos-containing materials in a home are best left alone. If materials such as insulation, tiling, and flooring are in good condition and out of the reach of children, there is no need to worry. However, if materials containing asbestos are deteriorating or if you are planning renovations and the materials will be disturbed, it is best to find out whether the materials contain asbestos before renovations begin and, if necessary, have the materials properly removed.
- Improper removal of asbestos may cause serious contamination by dispersing fibers throughout the area.
- Any asbestos removal in a home must be performed by properly accredited and certified contractors. A listing of certified contractors in your area may be obtained from state or local health departments or from the regional office of the EPA. Many contractors who advertise themselves as asbestos experts have not been trained properly. Only contractors who have been certified by the EPA or by a state-approved training school should be hired. The contractor should provide written proof of up-to-date certification.
- Children should not be permitted to play in areas where there are asbestos-containing materials.