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Everything You Need to Know about Asbestos in the Home

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Everything You Need to Know about Asbestos in the Home
4 min. read
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Image: robert coolen / Shutterstock.com

The thought of having asbestos in the home can worry anyone. But is it as bad as it’s made out to be? Before you panic, it’s worth knowing a little more. So with that in mind, read on to find out what it is, how to identify it, and if you should be worried about it or not.

What Is Asbestos?

Asbestos is a naturally-occurring mineral made out of thin, hair-like fibers. It has been used as a building material for millennia, primarily due to its fireproofing and insulating abilities. Asbestos began enjoying increased popularity starting with the late 19th century, when its use became ubiquitous, from bricks and concrete to fireproof insulation, drywall and flooring.

As medical research began to highlight the health dangers associated with asbestos, this material began to gradually decline in popularity. Some of the health concerns included an increased risk of lung, stomach, ovarian and kidney cancer, as well as other respiratory and gastrointestinal illnesses.

Today, the use of asbestos is banned in 66 countries. Canada made it illegal to import, manufacture, sell and use asbestos products on 31 December 2018. In the U.S., the Environmental Protection Agency issued an asbestos ban in 1989, but the ban was overturned two years later. Although the use of asbestos in homes has declined after 1980, this material is still not completely illegal in the U.S.

Which Household Products Contain Asbestos?

If your home was built between 1920 and 1989, there’s a high chance that you can find asbestos in paint, plaster, pipe and wall insulation, drywall, vinyl flooring and linoleum, caulking, roof shingles and corrugated panels.

Asbestos could also be found in appliances such as heaters, ovens and stoves, dishwashers, fridges, and even toasters. In such cases, asbestos was used to insulate heating elements and electrical components. You can also find asbestos in old cars, in parts such as brakes, clutches, gaskets and hood liners.

Traces of asbestos contamination have been found in products that contain talc, from baby powder, children’s toys and crayons, to adult cosmetics. In addition, vermiculite, a mineral used in construction as well as a soil amendment for indoor plants, can also become contaminated with asbestos.

Identifying Asbestos

Identifying asbestos in your home can be tricky because it has no smell or taste, and its color and texture can change depending on what materials it has been mixed with. Also, it can be found in a wide range of items, from construction materials to household appliances. Of course, some items such as popcorn or stucco ceilings are a common giveaway for asbestos use. Most of the time, however, it’s almost impossible to identify asbestos just by looking at it.

If you’re worried that your home may contain asbestos, the best solution is to contact a licensed testing and removal professional. They will be able to identify asbestos in construction materials and other household items and advise if they pose a threat.

Should You Worry If Your Home Has Asbestos?

Asbestos has a long and well-researched history of negative health effects. So, to put it shortly, yes, asbestos is dangerous. Breathing in or ingesting asbestos can result in serious illness, and although patients can live with asbestosis for years, the damage done to the lungs cannot be reversed.

However, just because you live in a home with asbestos doesn’t mean your health is immediately put at risk. In this regard, asbestos is very similar to lead paint. As long as the material is in good condition, without any signs of damage, asbestos is not hazardous. In fact, if you do find undamaged asbestos in your home, the best thing you can do is simply leave it alone.

On the other hand, damaged asbestos can release microscopic fibers into the air, which do present a health hazard. Therefore, if you have items in your home that you either know or suspect contain asbestos, check them regularly. Signs of damage include cracks, tears, abrasions and water damage. Once you find a damaged item or area, do not touch it and contact a professional as soon as possible.

Removing Asbestos From Your Home

Removing or repairing damaged asbestos in your home is not a job you should do yourself. If the damaged surface is disturbed, it’s very easy to breathe in the microscopic particles, and even brief exposure to asbestos can have unpleasant health effects.

Asbestos removal should always be carried out by a certified contractor. Admittedly, there are no laws that prevent you from handling the removal yourself, yet the hazards associated with such a DIY project far outweigh any cost-cutting. Not only that but asbestos waste can only be disposed of in landfills designated explicitly for this purpose. Therefore, to save yourself the trouble and protect yourself from any health risks, it’s always best to leave the job to a professional.

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