Over a quarter of all Americans, 27% in total, do not know if their homes currently contain asbestos, while only 7% have had their homes tested for it.
When considering the health risks of asbestos, including cancers such as mesothelioma, this can be concerning. This post will explore the nature of asbestos and show you what you should be looking for in your home.
There are actually many toxic substances that can be in our homes such as mold, radon and others. It is always essential to know your home does not contain these health hazards.
What is Asbestos? What are its Risks?
Asbestos is a mineral that is found naturally in rock and soil. In the past, it was used to strengthen building materials and resist heat. In addition, it also resists exposure to fire, sound, chemicals and water.
The dangers of asbestos have been known for a long period of time. In 2018 alone, 40,000 Americans died of diseases related to asbestos. These diseases include mesothelioma, lung cancer, ovarian cancer, and lung cancer.
Ways You Can Be Exposed to Asbestos
There are a large number of ways you can be exposed to asbestos in your home, here are a few scenarios you should be mindful of:
Attic Repairs: Many attics are insulated with vermiculite, which contains asbestos. Renovating your attic when it's insulated with vermiculite can release harmful asbestos fibers.
Brake Dust: Some brake components in cars have asbestos in them. Dust that collects on brake drums may have toxic asbestos fibers, spraying it to remove it can release these fibers.
Drywall Drilling: Drilling through drywall that contains asbestos will release asbestos fibers into the room.
Replacing Floor Tiles: Vinyl floor tiles were commonly constructed with asbestos in them in the 1950s. Improper removal of this tile can release asbestos fibers.
Removal of Popcorn Ceiling: Without the help of a professional, removing popcorn ceilings with a scraper can release toxic fibers into the room and throughout the home. Not all popcorn ceilings contain asbestos, and using a testing kit can help you identify any.
It's important to note that asbestos removal is something that needs to be permitted and done by a professional. Homeowners should never remove asbestos and take it to the dump or have a popular junk removal service pick it up. That is a big no-no.
How Much Asbestos is Dangerous?
For related diseases and conditions to appear, there must be repeated exposure to asbestos fibers.
People who contract asbestos-related conditions and diseases were likely exposed to it over a longer period of time, such as at work. Of those that experienced repeated exposure to asbestos, around 20% end up developing a disease or condition related to the exposure.
Short-term exposure is also risky, especially if it was a heavy exposure.
Red Flags for Asbestos
There are several aspects of your home that you should consider as a possible warning sign as to whether it contains asbestos or not.
Some to consider are:
Homes that were built before 1980
Vinyl flooring installed between 1952 and 1980
Walls built from cement sheets
Cement water tank from before 1980
If you own a home that has these red flags, you should be aware of these dos and don’ts for asbestos safety and other tips from Asbestos.com
Where to Look For Asbestos
You can’t see asbestos with just your eyes, but there are a number of places you can visually examine to see if your home has any materials that may contain asbestos. It’s important to remember to take safety precautions seriously to avoid any unintended exposure.
Locations you should be checking:
Floor Tiles: Tiles themselves can contain asbestos, as well as their adhesives and backings. If tiles are removed improperly or damaged, then asbestos fibers can be released.
Seals: Seals around furnace doors and stoves can contain and emit asbestos fibers from heat while they’re being used.
Wall and Ceiling Material: Asbestos can be found in textured paint and popcorn ceilings. Damage and wear over time can release asbestos fibers and particles into the air.
Cement Roofing and Shingles: A number are made with asbestos, and will release fibers if damaged or during removal.
Household Objects: Older household items such as hairdryers and appliances could contain asbestos.
What Does Asbestos Look Like?
Asbestos in nature can be a variety of colors. From white to green, blue or brown. It is difficult to identify asbestos in building materials or household objects. However, sometimes you can see asbestos fibers in damaged materials that contain it.
Asbestos fibers that are released into your home will settle onto things such as furniture. These fibers will look like pieces of fabric if visible. Seeing fibers alone is not a sign that whatever material or product it comes from contains asbestos.
One of the dangers of waiving a home inspection when purchasing a house is not having asbestos identified.
Household Materials That May Contain Asbestos
There are a large number of household objects and materials that also may contain asbestos, including:
Vinyl floor tiles
Glue that attaches floor tiles
What to Do If You Think You Find Asbestos
If you’re suspicious that something in your home may contain asbestos, it’s best to contact an asbestos abatement professional or company to make sure everything is handled properly.
Hiring a Professional
There are two different professionals that can help you with your potential asbestos problem.
Asbestos Inspector: An asbestos inspector will visit your home and conduct an inspection, take samples for testing and give you advice on the next path to take. They can also monitor the air after asbestos removal is completed.
Asbestos Abatement Contractor: Asbestos abatement contractors will remove and repair materials made from asbestos.
Currently, federal law does not require asbestos handling professionals to be accredited. However, state and local laws vary around the country. Research your state and locality’s laws and regulations to get a better idea of who you should hire.
What to Do If You Think You Were Exposed to Asbestos
If you think you were exposed to asbestos, you should begin by speaking to your primary care doctor. There is no test for possible asbestos exposure, but there are several tests you can take that will detect any disease or conditions related to asbestos exposure.
Generally, conditions and diseases related to asbestos can be difficult to detect. Not all doctors will have the experience or equipment necessary for a diagnosis, so it’s important to find the doctor that’s right for you.
If you’re certain that you have been exposed to asbestos, you should consider yearly screenings from a lung specialist to keep monitoring your condition.
Is All Asbestos In a Home Dangerous?
Not all material that contains asbestos in your home is dangerous. If the material is in good condition and not in danger of breaking, there is not an inherent health risk. As long as the fibers are not in danger of being released, then the best thing to do with the material is to leave it as is.
The danger from materials that contain asbestos comes from damage done over time. Asbestos that has aged and is weakened can break and crumble more easily, releasing dangerous fibers.
If you’re planning on checking your house for asbestos or in the process of scheduling cleanup and repairs, you’ll want to check out the printables included in this article by Asbestos.com
About the author: The above article about asbestos in our homes was written by Laura Kutch. Laura is a content creator who strives to create compelling and educational stories. Her passion for creative writing, digital marketing and journalism has allowed her to cover diverse topics across multiple industries, with a special focus on data-based research.