Today we know it as a carcinogenic material, but for most of the 20th century, asbestos was praised as a “miracle mineral” that was used in a wide variety of industries and materials. It was an important addition in ships, boilers, insulation and other products because of its fireproof attributes and chemical resistance.
Connections were made between asbestos and dangerous health issues as early as 1926, but it wasn’t strongly regulated by U. S. law until much later.
By the time it was controlled by legislation, asbestos had been used in the construction of many buildings, cars, ships and other products across the country. There are many homes and structures today that still have asbestos-containing materials (ACMs), leaving residents and workers at risk of exposure in the case of renovation or demolition.
If asbestos fibers are inhaled, it can lead to lung cancer or mesothelioma of the lungs, heart or abdomen. Knowing where asbestos fibers are present in the home can help prevent accidental exposure and disease.
Asbestos-Containing Materials in the Home
Since the incorporation of asbestos into construction materials was not regulated until 1989 by the Environmental Protection Agency, homes built from 1920 to 1980 are most likely to contain asbestos.
It’s important to note that if an ACM is intact, there is no reason to worry about exposure. Asbestos is only dangerous when ACMs are broken apart and the asbestos becomes dust-like and airborne.
If disturbed by a DIY project or home renovation, these home materials are most likely to contain asbestos:
- Insulation — due to its unique qualities, asbestos makes a great insulator and sound proofing material. Vermiculite insulation containing asbestos is present in many older homes and the EPA advises homeowners not to disturb it. If it appears to be decaying, hire an abatement professional to rectify the situation.
- Popcorn ceilings — the fad of textured popcorn ceilings was popular around the same time asbestos was reaching its peak use, and it can contain 1-10 percent of asbestos. These types of ceilings can be very easily damaged, so it’s important to avoid disturbing them without professional help.
- Water heaters, boilers and piping —the fire retardant nature of asbestos made it a popular material to line water tanks and boilers with. Asbestos helps keep pipes and tanks insulated while mitigating heat transfer, and can be found in the lining protecting outer metal sheeting.
- Cement materials — any material or product that contains cement, including siding, pipes and garages, may have asbestos due to its strong binding properties.
- Roofing — asbestos cement roof shingles were commonly used in the 1900s because it is a strong and lightweight insulator, which are very desirable qualities.
When performing a DIY project in the home or overseeing remodeling projects, understanding where the toxic problem areas are can prevent inadvertent issues. Since the late 1970s, there have been restrictions on asbestos in the US, so the carcinogen is not commonly used in building materials in the modern era. However, there is not a comprehensive ban on asbestos in the United States either, and up to 1 percent can still be integrated into new products.
Eliminating Asbestos in Your Home
As stated before, asbestos is not dangerous until it becomes airborne, but if you are looking to undergo a home project, you may want to test for it. Homeowners can buy a test kit on their own to test small areas for asbestos, but bigger projects will require professional help to ensure you and your family are safe.
The best way to go about removing asbestos safely is by hiring an asbestos-abatement professional to test and remove the materials from your home. It’s recommended to do your research when hiring an abatement company, as some may not be properly licensed.
Make sure that the professionals you hire are licensed by your state and qualified to do the level of work you need done.
Global Asbestos Awareness Week (April 1-7) brings to light the shocking lack of cohesive regulation of this carcinogenic mineral. Unfortunately, it is estimated that more than 125 million people across the globe are still at risk for asbestos exposure.
Until there is a worldwide ban, it can even still be added to new products and materials. By staying informed on consumer reports and vigilant in your own home, you can help yourself and your family from having to deal with an asbestos-related issue.