Written by Charles McGregor
When you typically think of summer, what normally comes to mind? For
most of us, it might include going on a summer vacation, spending time with
family and friends, and even completing that long list of projects you’ve been
putting off all year. But if your list includes making improvements to your
home, it’s important to remember before you start tearing down walls and
pulling up that old vinyl flooring in the kitchen to know if, and where,
asbestos could be hiding out in your home.
It wasn’t all that
long ago that asbestos, a naturally occurring mineral known for being
incredibly heat-resistant and durable, could be found in thousands of products.
The one-time wonder mineral was included in everything from home construction
and automotive applications to everyday products like ironing board covers and
crock pots. However, once doctors and researchers determined asbestos was a carcinogen, the
government acted swiftly to try to change course. The Toxic Safety Control Act
of 1976 heavily regulated asbestos and banned its use in certain types of
products like spray insulations.
newly-manufactured products may only contain up to one percent asbestos, but in
homes built or renovated before the mid-1970s there is the potential risk of
coming into contact with errant airborne asbestos fibers. In many cases, if a
product containing asbestos is left alone and in good condition, it doesn’t pose
a hazard to people. It’s when the materials are disturbed (broken, cut or
damaged), that asbestos fibers become friable and are released into the air
where they could be ingested or inhaled.
When asbestos is inhaled
or ingested, the tiny fibers enter the lungs and settle. Eventually, those
fibers become lodged in the mesothelium (the lining of the lungs), where they
irritate and inflame the area, causing several diseases. Asbestosis and
mesothelioma are two diseases
most commonly connected to asbestos exposure, and
both carry latency periods spanning anywhere from 10-50 years. In the vast
majority of cases, those who develop mesothelioma are older folks who were
exposed to asbestos decades ago, though cases of the disease have been
documented in people as young as their 20s and 30s. While mesothelioma is also
typically found in the lining of the lungs, it can also develop in the linings
of the abdomen or heart, though those cases are considered very rare.
If you’re planning to do
any sort of renovations to your home, first try to determine whether or not
your house contains asbestos. While there is no sure-fire way to determine on
your own if you have asbestos, there are several assumptions you can make based
on clues hidden in and around your home. For example, houses built before the
mid-1970s should be assumed to contain asbestos somewhere, simply because the
products were available for use and were included in new construction. Other
signs include the use of vermiculite insulation, which runs the risk of
asbestos contamination, and the presence of old pipe insulation or popcorn
ceilings, which were also known to contain the mineral.
The easiest way to determine if your home
contains asbestos, however, is to hire a licensed professional to come in and
inspect the areas where you suspect the mineral may be hiding. If asbestos is
found, a professional can easily determine the best way to handle the problem,
whether by encapsulating the materials or by abating them. They may also
suggest that the materials are safe as long as they aren’t disturbed, so be
sure to provide details as to where the renovations are expected to take place.
Asbestos abatement is relatively expensive, but the additional costs now are
much better than possibly exposing yourself and others to asbestos while
performing do-it-yourself work.
Taking the right
precautions now can save you time, money and trouble down the road, and as the
Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) and the Environmental
Protection Agency (EPA) state, there is no safe level of
exposure to asbestos. Don’t let asbestos ruin your renovation
projects and get in the way. Do yourself a favor and leave the dangerous work
to the professionals. That way, you can ensure the work has been done right,
and safely, the first time!