Asbestos - Everything you need to know.
To date we have visited nearly 250 Attic spaces this year (2021). As our maritime market booms with influx we visited a tone of homes. Stopping by places like Edmunston NB, Plaster Rock, Minto, Moncton, and even taking a ferry all the way Campobello Island. It's been busy to say the least. A quick review of data gathered from these home inspections shows that roughly 8% of the attics contained a form of insulation identified as 'possibly containing asbestos'. Now trust me, the LAST word a home buyer (or Agent) likes hearing during an inspection is "Asbestos". I wrote this article to answer some basic common questions home inspectors get regarding asbestos.
This Article Aims to answer the following: - What Is Asbestos?
- Can Asbestos Affect My Health?
- Where Would Asbestos Be Found?
- When Can it Be a Problem?
- What Can Be Done About It?
Now, Before we get really into it please know that this is NOT an article to scare you into testing any products, or dissuade you from buying a home etc. This article to to lay out the facts. Let's start with an actual disclaimer.
- DISCLAIMER -
Or maybe I should say 'Myth'.. Regardless.. A Home Inspector cannot directly tell you that the product identified "contains asbestos". This is BASIC knowledge of the topic.. Asbestos too small to see with the naked eyes (We'll talk about this shortly) it needs to be sampled, tested and identified by a qualified and reputable laboratory.
Most clients (and sometimes the sellers) opt to test the identified product once learning it may contain asbestos. A test that, as of writing this, costs roughly $200 (covering retrieving the sample, courier to lab & Laboratory fees)
- WARNING -
Do NOT attempt to retrieve a sample and drive it to the lab to save money $$. Pay the test fee. Now, I'm a home inspector - my job is to be thorough and honest.. Always hire professionals.
What Is Asbestos?
Asbestos is a mineral fiber. In fact, there are several types of asbestos fibers. In the past, asbestos was added to a variety of products to strengthen them and to provide heat insulation and fire resistance. Here are a few photos of different asbestos fibres..See if you can see some similarities - See Photos Below -
Answer = They're all SMALL and they are very SHARP.
In short, if these fibers get Air-Born (during general demolition or a renovation project) they can be inhaled from the dusty 'work site' and may 'stick' to your lungs and not get exhaled...
Can Asbestos Affect My Health?
From studies of people who were exposed to asbestos in factories and shipyards, we know that breathing high levels of asbestos fibers can lead to an increased risk of lung cancer in the forms of mesothelioma, which is a cancer of the lining of the chest and the abdominal cavity, and asbestosis, in which the lungs become scarred with fibrous tissue.
The risk of lung cancer and mesothelioma increase with the number of fibers inhaled.
The risk of lung cancer from inhaling asbestos fibers is also greater if you smoke. People who get asbestosis have usually been exposed to high levels of asbestos for a long time. The symptoms of these diseases do not usually appear until about 20 to 30 years after the first exposure to asbestos.
Most people exposed to small amounts of asbestos, as we all are in our daily lives, do not develop these health problems. However, if disturbed, asbestos material may release asbestos fibers, which can be inhaled into the lungs as stated earlier. The fibers can remain there for a long time, increasing the risk of disease.
- NOTE - Asbestos material that would crumble easily if handled, or that has been sawed, scraped, ripped apart or sanded into a powder, is more likely to create a health hazard. So what does this mean? Lets answer this with an example:
Let's compare 2 materials - Insulation vs flooring tiles. Obviously if we were renovation a home and removing these two materials, the insulation is more likely to get airborne and pose a risk.. BUT.. if you start sanding the floors, cutting them with saws and kicking up a lot of dust.. the flooring tile demo just got very hazardous. In short - WE DONT WANT TO INHALE ASBESTOS FIBERS!
Where Would Asbestos Be Found, and When Can it Be a Problem?
First, Most products made today do not contain asbestos. Those few products made which still contain asbestos are required to be labeled. However, until the 60s & 70s, many types of construction products, insulation and flooring materials used in homes contained asbestos.
Common products that might have contained asbestos in the past, and conditions which may release fibers, include:
Ducts insulated with an asbestos blanket or asbestos paper tape. These materials may release asbestos fibers if damaged, repaired, or removed improperly;
Floor tiles (vinyl asbestos, asphalt and rubber), the backing on vinyl sheet flooring, and adhesives used for installing floor tile. Sanding tiles can release fibers, and so may scraping or sanding the backing of sheet flooring during removal;
cement sheet, millboard and paper used as insulation around furnaces and wood-burning stoves. Repairing or removing appliances may release asbestos fibers, and so may cutting, tearing, sanding, drilling, or sawing insulation;
door gaskets in furnaces, wood stoves and coal stoves. Worn seals can release asbestos fibers during use;
soundproofing or decorative material sprayed on walls and ceilings. Loose, crumbly or water-damaged material may release fibers, and so will sanding, drilling or scraping the material;
patching and joint compounds for walls and ceilings, and textured paints. Sanding, scraping, or drilling these surfaces may release asbestos fibers;
asbestos cement roofing, shingles and siding. These products are not likely to release asbestos fibers unless sawed, dilled or cut;
What Should Be Done About Asbestos in the Home?
Ok that was a tone of information! Frankly it can be very frightening & discouraging to read through the long list above and still want to take risk and leave your house!.. a slight over exaggeration of course. Here is the number 1. take away point.. If you think asbestos may be in your home, don't panic. Usually, the best thing to do is to leave asbestos material that is in good condition alone. Generally, material in good condition will not release asbestos fibers. There is no danger unless the asbestos is disturbed and fibers are released and then inhaled into the lungs. Check material regularly if you suspect it may contain asbestos. Don't touch it, but look for signs of wear or damage, such as tears, abrasions or water damage. Damaged material may release asbestos fibers. Sometimes, the best way to deal with slightly damaged material is to limit access to the area and not touch or disturb it.
Check with local health, environmental or other appropriate agencies to find out proper handling and disposal procedures. If asbestos material is more than slightly damaged, or if you are going to make changes in your home that might disturb it, repair or removal by a professional is needed. Before you have your house remodeled, find out whether asbestos materials are present.