A lot of people mistakenly believe that the production and use of asbestos became illegal at some point in the 20th century. Sadly, not only is asbestos production still permitted in the United States in a variety of products, but it is also mined throughout the world despite the uncomfortable and often fatal hazards it can cause.
What is asbestos?
Asbestos is a mineral that is made out of long, thin, microscopic crystals. When these minerals are inhaled or swallowed, it is almost impossible to remove them. Due to its sharp nature, asbestos stays stuck in lungs, the chest, or the stomach cavity. You cannot smell or taste asbestos. In fact, it can take decades before a person begins to notice the effects of asbestos intake into their body.
Asbestos has been used since ancient time to make a variety of materials including blankets, tablecloths, and other textiles. In modern times, it was once very popular to make a variety of construction and building materials. Asbestos is prized because it is strong, lightweight, resistant to heat, sound resistant, and lightweight. Its heyday in building materials for home lasted for about 30 years – from the 1940s to the 1970s.
Asbestos can be found in a variety of home construction products. Some places where asbestos were commonly used is in vinyl floor tiles, glue that connects floor tiles to wood or concrete, asphalt floor tiles, vinyl sheet flooring, boiler insulation, fiber cement siding, roofing insulation, caulking, siding material, spackling, adhesives, chalkboards, window glazing, cement siding, linoleum, cement piping, acoustical plaster, heating and electrical ducts, fire blankets, plaster, fire doors, thermal paper products, high temperature gaskets, elevator brake shoes, HVAC duct insulation, elevator equipment panels, ceiling tiles, electrical cloth, and some forms of paint.
What Should I Do if I Suspect Asbestos in a Home or Building?
Asbestos is most dangerous when airborne because it can easily be inhaled or ingested. In other words, if asbestos is not in danger of becoming loose, it is often safer to leave it where it is. Nevertheless, if you have purchased an older building, or simply wonder if there might be any asbestos in your building or home, you could hire an industrial hygiene specialist. There are numerous asbestos detection devices that can be purchased online, but a professional company or contractor is always recommended.
Remove or Repair?
If you indeed have asbestos, the big question is whether to repair or remove the asbestos. When you repair asbestos, you simply seal it off, usually because removal would be more dangerous or too much work. This is, of course, a temporary fix designed to seal off or cover any asbestos in an area. In the long run, it may make asbestos removal more difficult and expensive. It involves either adding a chemical sealant to bind the asbestos fibers together or coating the asbestos fibers so they cannot be released into the air. Covering involves encapsulating(wrapping) the contaminated piece with some kind of protective coating or wrap so that no asbestos can enter the air.
Whether you are doing a temporary repair to asbestos or removing it completely, it’s important to hire a contractor licensed by your state to work on asbestos removal. Make sure to get in writing that the contractor will be following all state laws for repair, removal, and disposal. Ask for a disposal manifest from the contractor so that you know the asbestos will be placed in a facility that is designed to accept asbestos. You can get references for your contractor by contacting the Better Business Bureau, local air pollution agency, and worker safety agency to check for any past violations. It’s important that all workers wear protective gear including gloves, respirators, and other protective clothing.
More information on Asbestos
If you would like more information about asbestos, its health risks, proper removal, and how to find a certified professional for repair or removal contact the Environmental Protection Agency, or a local state environmental regulation agency. They usually have the most detailed resources, since they are the ones who develop laws surrounding asbestos removal and safety standards.