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Asbestos Exposure and Home Remodeling

Asbestos exposure remains a concern, particularly for those who work in industries that once used the mineral frequently. Continued exposure can cause major health issues, including mesothelioma. Not everyone realizes, though, that asbestos can be lurking in unexpected places, including family homes.

Asbestos-containing materials (ACMs) were used to construct homes for many years before the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) placed restrictions on asbestos use. In turn, many older homes can be sites of contamination, especially when renovations are done. If you unknowingly disturb ACMs during a home renovation, it can cause fibers to get into the air.

Asbestos & Home Remodeling

Asbestos-Related Illnesses

Asbestos fibers, when inhaled, can get lodged in the lungs and airways, where they can accumulate and cause internal bodily damage. Asbestos exposure is linked to a number of health conditions, including include pleural effusions (a buildup of fluid in the space between the chest wall and the lungs), pleural plaque (a thickening of the tissue around the lungs), and asbestosis.

Asbestos inhalation is also the leading risk factor for mesothelioma, a cancer of the lining of the lungs. This type of cancer is aggressive, spreads quickly, and is often not diagnosed until it the disease is in its advanced state.

Restrictions on Asbestos in the Home

Asbestos was used in building for thousands of years because it resists heat, fire, electricity, and chemicals. When scientists discovered that the fibers could become airborne and cause illnesses, the EPA placed its restrictions, although the mineral isn’t completely banned in the U.S.

The restrictions were initially placed on certain asbestos-containing building materials in 1973, and banned almost completely in 1989. That last ban, however, was overturned in 1991 by the federal court system. Today, the U.S. is one of few developed nations that have not completely banned asbestos. It’s still used in many home-building materials, but the asbestos in these products should be contained and prevented from becoming airborne.

Asbestos-Containing Products

According to the EPA bans that still stand, rollboard, corrugated paper, flooring felt, and commercial or specialty paper cannot contain asbestos. Certain types of spray-applied surfacing materials and pipe insulation are also banned, along with wall patching compound and artificial fireplace embers with asbestos. Furthermore, any so-called new uses, or products that did not historically have asbestos, can’t contain the mineral.

Due to the overturn of the 1989 EPA ban, there are several building materials and other products tha still contain asbestos. These include vinyl floor tiles, cement flat sheet and corrugated sheet, roofing felt, roof coatings, cement pipe, cement shingle, millboard, pipeline wrap, and non-roofing coatings.

How to Spot Asbestos While Remodeling

Even modern homes may contain asbestos because of the overturned ban on products and materials with asbestos. However, it’s older homes, those built before the mid 1980s, that pose the greatest risks. Any remodeling project on an older home needs to include a plan for finding any asbestos, and for containing or removing the mineral if it is discovered. If you are worried about asbestos and do not want to take the risk of moving forward with a project, you can contact a licensed asbestos contractor to determine if you have any of the material in your home.

Since there are risks associated with asbestos exposure, it’s important to be aware of where this mineral may be in your home. In many cases asbestos is well enclosed, which keeps the fibers contained and protects people in the home from exposure. However, as you knock into walls, remove plumbing fixtures and pipes, and do other remodeling work, you may be disturbing asbestos fibers and contaminating the air in the house. Here are some places that are most likely to have asbestos:

  • Older vinyl and linoleum tiles and the glue used to adhere them to the floor.
  • Flat roofing materials.
  • Insulation around HVAC ducts, furnaces, and pipes.
  • Outdoor siding.
  • Caulking and glazing for windows.
  • Decorative plaster.
  • Drywall patching and joint compound.

If you demolish or remove something in your home and see a white, fibrous material breaking apart, it may or may not be asbestos. It isn’t possible to tell if you have asbestos unless you are an expert and know what to look for. If you aren’t sure, the best solution is to call in a trained professional. Asbestos abatement professionals can either contain asbestos or remove it, but you should never try to do the job yourself.

Asbestos Abatement

Again, identifying, containing, or removing asbestos must be done by trained professionals. The risks of exposure are too great to attempt to do this without professional assistance. There are licensed asbestos abatement professionals who can test for asbestos, and then deal with it in a way that makes a home safe for its residents.

As you plan to remodel your home, the best way to avoid being exposed to asbestos is to call in the professionals before you do any work. Find out if you have asbestos in your home, if any of it is at risk of being damaged as you do your work or if it is already damaged. Taking these steps first could save you a lot of trouble and expense later, not to mention you and your family’s health.

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