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Asbestos As a Hazard During Remodeling

Asbestos was used in thermal insulation and floor tiles prior to 1980. Intact and undisturbed asbestos does not pose a health risk. Asbestos becomes a problem when, due to damage, disturbance, or deterioration over time, the material releases fibers into the air. Therefore, during remodeling and renovation activities, asbestos exposure can become a problem.

What is asbestos?

Asbestos refers to a mineral fiber, with the term describing six naturally occurring minerals found in rock formations. The compound consists of silicon, oxygen, hydrogen, and various metal components. These mineral fibers are very small and light, normally invisible to the naked eye. Their use in insulation is due to the fact that they are heat resistant and extremely durable. The presence of asbestos is not necessarily health threatening. As long as the material is not damaged and it is well sealed, not allowing mineral to escape, there is no associated health risk. When the material can be crushed or reduced to powder by hand pressure, allowing pieces to escape, a health risk may be imposed.

Why was it used?

In the past, asbestos was added to a variety of products to strengthen them and to provide heat insulation and fire resistance. Asbestos became popular in commercial buildings until the early 1970s because it is durable, a fire retardant, corrosion resistant and a good insulator. It is estimated that there are 3,000 different types of commercial products containing some amount of asbestos.

What are the associated health effects?

Asbestos fibers can cause serious health problems if inhaled. The tiny fibers can impair normal lung functions, and increase the risk of developing lung cancer, mesothelioma (a cancer of the chest and abdominal linings), or asbestosis (irreversible lung scarring that can be fatal). Symptoms do not surface immediately but the long term risks include chest and abdominal cancers and lung diseases. Symptoms may not be present anywhere from 20 to 30 years after the first exposure. Severe health problems from exposure have been experienced by workers who held jobs in industries such as shipbuilding, mining, milling, and fabricating.

How do I know if asbestos is in my home? How do I get rid of it?

If you suspect a material in your home contains asbestos, treat it as if it does until you can get it tested. The only way to be sure whether or not you have asbestos in your home is to have the material tested in a laboratory. Look in your local directory under Asbestos or Laboratories for specialists that are able to perform these tests.

Typical places you may find asbestos in your home include, but are not limited to, the following:

  • Insulation Roofing and siding shingles

  • Textures paint or patching compounds on wall and ceiling joints

  • Stove top pads

  • Vinyl floor tiles

  • Blanket or insulating tape around hot water and steam pipes in older houses

  • Insulation on oil and coal furnaces and door gaskets

  • Soundproofing or decorative material sprayed on walls and ceilings

Remember, asbestos that is kept intact and properly sealed will not pose a danger. If it is in good condition, leave it alone. If the material is damaged at all, do not touch or move the material yourself. Call a professional to perform this work. Before you remodel your home, find out whether or not asbestos is present in your home.

 American Lung Association
 EPA - Indoor Environmental Concerns During Remodeling
 General Information on Asbestos from EPA

Content updated May 28, 2009

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