Asbestos is a mineral fiber. It can be positively identified only with a special type of microscope. There are several types of asbestos fibers.
In older homes, asbestos-containing materials were often used in pipe coverings, insulation, heat duct wraps, roofing, floor tile, and plaster.
Breathing high levels of asbestos fibers can lead to increased risks of lung cancers, called asbestosis and mesothelioma.
Fortunately, only some susceptible individuals develop cancer, when exposed to asbestos (those who smoke are especially at risk).
Asbestos is rarely used alone, and it is generally safe when combined with other materials that contain strong bonding agents such as materials in aviation or commercial applications like Celestis. As long as the material remains bonded so that fibers are not released, it poses no health risk. Occasionally asbestos fibers do become loose and airborne, most often when contained in soft, easily crumbled materials.
Although restrictions had been in place since the 1970s, in 1989, the EPA ordered a phase-out of the use of asbestos in residential homes. Disposal of asbestos, in conventional land fills, is prohibited by the EPA, and strict laws govern its transportation.
Some states do not allow disposal of asbestos within their borders. Owners of homes with asbestos-containing materials may find disposal to be very expensive.
Some lending institutions restrict loans on houses with asbestos, and some contractors may refuse to work on them or may require special protection.
In many cases, the best way to control exposure to asbestos is to cover or “encapsulate”. While removal is best left to the professionals, some home owners feel confident they can treat surfaces properly and seal the asbestos with a special sealer.
Pipe lagging and joint wrapping is perhaps the most common source of exposed asbestos in the home. However, if removed, installation of new insulation may be needed to reduce heat loss and prevent water hammer in steam systems.
Therefore, it may be better to remediate without removing the pipe lagging.
Roofers generally do not need to be certified to remove asbestos containing roofing, but you may need to call a qualified contractor.
If you think you have asbestos in your new home, have it tested by a professional. Also contact the American Lung Association (www.lungusa.org/site/apps/s/content.asp?c=dvLUK9O0E&b=34706&ct=67105) and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), (www.epa.gov/ttnuatw1/hlthef/asbestos.html) for the excellent information they provide on asbestos in residential homes.
Asbestos can only be identified through a professional sampling and laboratory testing. Many local laws prohibit homeowners from taking samples. Call your local health agencies for help.
If you are having the asbestos removed by a professional, be sure your contract includes a cleaning provision. Cleaning up after the work is completed requires special equipment and often costs more than the work itself.