Asbestos is a common fear amongst homeowners, yet we’ve found that many don’t quite understand what it is, and what should be done about it. Truth be told, asbestos can be deadly — but in most cases, you don’t even need to worry about it. How’s that possible? Read on.
What is asbestos?
Asbestos is a naturally-occurring mineral that was most commonly woven into fabrics and mixed into cements used widely throughout homes built and/or renovated prior to 1980. The mineral was a go-to due to its heat- and flame-resistance, strength and versatility, and insulation properties.
Yet it wasn’t until the effects of asbestos set in 10-40 years later that it was also realized to be highly toxic, leading to issues like asbestosis, mesothelioma, and lung cancer. As a known carcinogen, it quickly became banned in more than 50 countries around the world and heavily restricted and regulated in more (like right here at home).
Yet having asbestos in your home doesn’t necessarily put you at risk for any of the above.
How can I spot asbestos?
One of the most recognizable forms of asbestos in the home is found is in the paper tape and/or blankets used on metal ducts. It was also widely used in floor and ceiling tiles, attic and wall insulation, roofing and siding, and textured paint and patching.
Yet despite its prevalence, spotting asbestos can be quite the challenge. According to the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), you actually cannot spot asbestos by simply looking at it. Correctly identifying asbestos requires a trained and accredited professional who can take the right samples and run the tests needed to confirm asbestos — then put you on the right path to treating it.
To worry or not to worry?
As mentioned, the simple presence of asbestos in your home is not cause for concern.
When in good condition, materials containing asbestos should simply be left alone. Asbestos doesn’t become a health and safety issue until it’s damaged, which is when it’s more likely to release the toxic fibers that can then be inhaled.
That being said, when it comes time to embark upon a renovation project in a home built prior to 1980, asbestos testing can become imperative, as retrofits and renos can disturb the materials containing asbestos. At this time, it’s wise to call in the professionals. Asbestos specialists can properly spot, then either repair (seal or cover) or safely remove asbestos materials.
As for your day-to-day health and safety, issues connected to asbestos are most often found amongst the miners or millworkers, the people who live near the asbestos mines, and those who work with it in their profession (i.e. electricians, shipworkers, etc.) This doesn’t mean you’re immune, but unless you work in a hazardous occupation when it comes to asbestos or live with someone who does, it’s relatively unlikely you’ll experience the detrimental side effects.
The bottom line when it comes to asbestos
Should you suspect asbestos, do not touch it. Check for signs of wear: water damage, tears, or abrasions. If damage is spotted, hire a pro. A trained and accredited asbestos specialist will know how to spot, test, and safely treat and/or remove asbestos from your home should it be necessary.
Bottom line: when in doubt, find out. When it comes to your home and your family, health and safety is the name of the game.