What is Asbestos?

Asbestos is a fibrous mineral found in some rocks. These fibers are invisible to the human eye. Asbestos was widely used in homes from the 1970s through the late 1980s. The properties of asbestos made it a great choice for building materials throughout the industry in that it is fire resistant and was very good for insulation.

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Asbestos also adds strength when used structurally and was added to many building materials used in construction at the time. It was used as an insulator around pipes to prevent condensation. It worked as a strengthener in materials such as siding, roof shingles, floor tiles and wall board. It was also mixed with sprays for ceilings and walls to give a textured appearance.

As a result of many materials containing asbestos a classification of Asbestos Containing Materials (ACM) was assigned. Anything that contained more than one percent asbestos was designated as ACM.

Is Asbestos Dangerous?

An important fact is that if asbestos is left undisturbed there are no health risks. There is no need to remove asbestos just because the material is there. Asbestos has to be inhaled to possibly cause any related disease. Swallowing asbestos fibers poses no health risk. However, if the material is disturbed and inhalation of the fibers occurs then there may be health risks.

The fibers can lodge in the lung tissue and cause lung cancer. Inhaling asbestos can cause asbestosis which is scarring of the lung tissue making it difficult to breathe. This condition worsens over time.

Malignant mesotheliona is another cancer caused by asbestos inhalation. This cancer affects the mesothelium membrane which is a lining that protects your internal organs. This type cancer is aggressive and deadly. Some treatment is possible but there is no cure.

Asbestos in the Home

As stated earlier, asbestos containing materials that are undisturbed or undamaged will cause no health risk. Typical places to look for asbestos externally include deck underlayment, asbestos board siding, and shingles. Inside the home you may find it in insulation, tiles, floor under-sheeting and pipe insulation. Asbestos may also be in acoustical tiles or textured paint.

If damage is noted in asbestos materials inspection and testing should be performed by a professional asbestos inspector. Minor damage can be repaired by two methods:

Encapsulation This method involves sealing the material with a compound so that the fibers arebonded and can't escape into the atmosphere.

Enclosing An enclosure is placed around the material to prevent fibers escaping. This could be a wrap or protective jacket around piping.

Major damage will most likely require removal of the materials by a qualified contractor.

Inspection and Testing

A home should also be inspected and tested for asbestos containing materials before remodeling or major changes. An asbestos inspector is able to inspect the home, take samples for tests and provide corrective measures for any problems. An inspector can also verify that removal was done correctly by a contractor and proper cleanup measures were followed.

Inspectors should be trained and accredited and able to provide proof of their training. The inspection should include a lab analysis of collected samples. You should receive a full report on location of asbestos containing materials, extent of damages or impact on remodeling work to be done and recommendations on steps required to remedy the situation.

As a note you should not hire and inspector that may be tied to an asbestos repair of removal contractor. Their inspections should be independent of company ties.

Asbestos Removal

Asbestos removal is not required by law before remodeling or changes if the materials are not disturbed. It may be best to leave the materials in place rather than risk releasing materials into the air.

When removal is required a professional asbestos removal contractor should be hired. Although it's not recommended you can remove asbestos containing materials yourself, there are steps and guidelines created by the EPA for do-it-yourself removal.

When hiring a professional ensure the contractor is properly trained and meets all licensing requirements. Contractors can normally be found in the yellow pages or through other local resources.

Following are some important steps when hiring a contractor:

• A contract and estimate with complete work plan.
• Contractor provides list of previous work and references.
• There are no pending lawsuits or mitigation against the contractor.
• Contractor provides information on cleanup procedures
• Allows an independent inspection after work is completed.

Asbestos is generally not a hazard in the home. When in doubt immediately contact an asbestos professional to avoid putting family members at unnecessary risk.

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