5 Jaw-Dropping Facts About Asbestos Usage in Old Homes
As a homeowner, you might know that asbestos stopped being used for certain products in homes some years back; however, if you have an older home, you might also still wonder when this practice ended and if there’s a risk of asbestos in your home. Homeowners are also rightly concerned about just how dangerous asbestos is and what to do if you discover it in your home!
The United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) enacted a partial asbestos ban in 1989, and then asbestos stopped being used in many household products. A 2019 rule gave the EPA added authority to review asbestos products, although many containing less than 1% asbestos are still allowed.
If it surprises you to know that the United States doesn’t have a total asbestos ban, the good news is that asbestos is not always dangerous even when present in your home! Finding asbestos in the home doesn’t necessarily mean you need to vacate or even pay for asbestos cleanup.
To better understand your risks for asbestos exposure and options if you should find it in your home, note a few jaw-dropping facts about asbestos, including what makes it dangerous. You can then discuss additional questions with an asbestos removal company or, for those with plaster walls and ceilings in the home, a plaster restoration contractor, to ensure your home is always safe for occupation.
What You Might Not Know About Asbestos
Check out these 5 jaw-dropping facts about asbestos and then you can review some tips on keeping yourself safe if you should discover it in your home.
1. Asbestos is a naturally occurring fiber
Asbestos is a naturally occurring mineral silicate and not a man-made material! Asbestos is actually mined, similar to how gold or coal are mined, and not made in factories. The material was once valued for its natural durability and insulating factors, and because it’s virtually fireproof.
2. Asbestos is dangerous only when inhaled
Handling asbestos is not dangerous itself; however, when a person inhales asbestos, some of those small mineral silicates get lodged in the lungs. Over time and with long-term exposure, those silicates build up and harden.
Those hardened silicate minerals kill off healthy cells, interfering with lung function. Long-term asbestos exposure has been linked to lung cancer and mesothelioma, a tumor that lines the lungs and other organs.
3. There is no safe level of asbestos exposure
While a person’s risk for lung cancer and mesothelioma are increased over time, even a small amount of asbestos exposure can mean lung damage. A person’s overall health, whether or not they’re a smoker, and other such factors all affect their likelihood of developing lung cancer and other serious health conditions after asbestos exposure.
4. Asbestos carries the risk of secondhand exposure
When a person thinks of secondhand exposure to a deadly substance, they usually think of breathing in someone else’s cigarette smoke, and might wonder how they can be exposed to asbestos from another person! While persons working in buildings with asbestos are at the most risk of harm, note that asbestos fibers can cling to a person’s clothes, skin, and hair.
Those fibers are then transferred from that person to other areas and environments, even to surfaces outside the building containing asbestos. Those fibers might rub off on furniture or settle onto carpeting and other surfaces; in turn, anyone in that same area might come into contact with asbestos and also inhale those fibers.
5. Mesothelioma takes decades to develop!
A person doesn’t always develop lung cancer, mesothelioma, and other asbestos related health concerns after their initial exposure to the substance. In many cases, it takes several decades for mesothelioma to develop, which can make it difficult for doctors to diagnose the condition and connect it to asbestos exposure. However, some 3000 people are diagnosed with mesothelioma every year, emphasizing why it’s vital a person protect themselves against asbestos exposure.
What You Need to Know About the History of Asbestos in Insulation
Before the 1970s, asbestos was commonly used in the manufacture of a wide variety of home building products, including pipe and room insulation, floor tiles, and roofing materials, for added insulation and fire-resistance. Asbestos was highly prized for its durability; the material is naturally strong yet flexible enough for it to be woven in with other materials. The air bubbles between asbestos fibers also helped stop heat transference, making the material an excellent insulator.
After soldiers returned from World War II in the mid-1940s, the United States saw a construction boom, and asbestos-containing insulation was used commonly. However, the 1960s then saw a rise in health concerns and resultant lawsuits related to asbestos exposure, and the EPA declared the substance a dangerous air pollutant.
While the EPA pushed for a full ban on the substance, lobbyists pushed back, citing potential revenue and job loss if asbestos was banned entirely. The EPA was only able to secure a partial ban on the substance in 1989, as said; however, product manufacturers and builders had already seen an even greater increase in lawsuits related to asbestos-containing materials, and the product’s use was scaled back during the 1970s.
Currently, the material is still allowed as long as insulation and other products contain no more than 1% asbestos. A homeowner might still find asbestos in loose-fill insulation, insulation wrappings such as for plumbing and HVAC pipes and appliances, block insulation, and spray-on foam insulation. The material is also sometimes used in plaster, cement, floor tiles, and other building products.
Is It Dangerous to Have Asbestos In Your Home?
Asbestos is only harmful to your health when you inhale its fibers, as said. Having it in your home isn’t necessarily dangerous, in the same way that having a bottle of rat poison in your home isn’t automatically dangerous; as long as you don’t eat, drink, or come into contact with that poison, it doesn’t pose a danger!
However, this doesn’t mean that a person should ignore asbestos in their home, even if it seems contained. Asbestos fibers can come loose when exposed to heavy vibrations, such as caused by large tools during a home improvement project. Airborne fibers can make their way to a home’s ventilation system or otherwise settle in the home far from its original location.
When deciding if asbestos should be removed from your home, you might consider how well it’s contained and the risk of it becoming airborne or otherwise relocated over the years. In many cases an asbestos cleanup contractor might recommend containment options, such as thick plastic sheeting over areas containing asbestos, to keep it from becoming airborne.
Note, too, that plaster is very dense and thick and built in layers rather than simply nailed or screwed onto a home’s framing, such as is drywall. There may be far fewer gaps between plaster and asbestos insulation, which can help keep that asbestos in place.
When Should You Have Asbestos Removed?
While contained asbestos might be safe and not pose a hazard to homeowners, you might also consider when it would be best to have the material removed from the home. For example, if you might put your home on the real estate market anytime in the future, insulation containing asbestos might put off many buyers, even if the material is contained with sheeting or behind plaster. Investing in asbestos removal now can then mean more potential buyers when you’re ready to sell.
A homeowner might also consider if that asbestos might pose a risk for anyone else, even if it’s contained. If you’re planning home renovation projects, as an example, heavy-duty tools might cause enough vibration to loosen asbestos and its containment sheeting. Contractors working in your home’s attic or that might pull out walls and ceiling tiles might also risk exposure.
It’s also vital for homeowners to ensure that any containment measures are inspected regularly, even every year, for water damage, loose connectors, and anything else that might compromise their integrity. Your asbestos cleanup contractor can note any other recommendations for ensuring that asbestos doesn’t pose a risk to you and your family, or if it’s a safer option to have it removed completely.
Can You Test for Asbestos Yourself?
It’s easy for homeowners especially to mistake asbestos for other materials in the home, including fiberglass insulation. If you suspect asbestos or see loose building materials around your home, it’s best to have that material tested so you can schedule asbestos removal or containment, as needed.
Rather than trying to test the material yourself, it’s best if a homeowner calls an industrial hygiene firm to have it tested. Remember that it’s easy for asbestos fibers to cling to your clothes, hair, and skin, and then get dragged to other areas of the home, increasing the risk of asbestos exposure to everyone in the family! Don’t touch anything you suspect is asbestos but call a professional for testing instead.
An asbestos abatement or cleanup contractor can then note the extent of asbestos, how well it’s contained, and your overall risk, as well as your options for containment or cleanup. If you decide on asbestos removal, ensure you choose a licensed, experienced asbestos cleanup contractor rather than a general contractor, to ensure a safe, thorough removal.
This information is proudly presented to our readers by Brooklyn Plaster Restoration, and we hope that you found it helpful. If you’re a homeowner or commercial property owner in the Brooklyn area and still wonder when asbestos stopped being used or if your structure’s plaster provides enough containment for asbestos, don’t hesitate to give us a call. We offer full plaster inspections and plaster restoration, so you can decide on the next step to take to ensure your safety and your property’s overall condition.