If you are considering buying or selling a home built before the 1980s, you should be aware of the possibility of asbestos presence in the house. Back in those days, asbestos was a popular building material. Today, we know the health hazards it presents. Read this article for an asbestos testing and hazards overview, and to learn more about what you can do to identify and mitigate asbestos.
What is Asbestos and Why Should Homeowners Care?
Asbestos is a mineral fiber that was widely used in many products because of its excellent heat resistance, durability, and low cost. However, the characteristics that made asbestos a raw material of choice comes at a great cost—human health.
How Does Asbestos Affect Human Health?
Asbestos fibers are microscopic and odorless materials that could pose several health risks if inhaled or ingested. When the fibers enter the body, they lodge in the mucous membranes of the nose, lungs, or digestive tracts.
Some serious health problems that can arise as a result include:
This is a malignant tumor that affects the mesothelial tissue, the thin membrane lining of the lungs, heart, and abdomen. Most cases of mesothelioma are associated with exposure to asbestos fibers. Thus, people who work in asbestos factories, mines, and mills have an increased risk for this disease. If a home contains asbestos, homeowners can also be at risk.
Prolonged and constant exposure to asbestos fiber can cause scarring of the lungs. This condition is known as asbestosis, a chronic respiratory disease that results from inhaled asbestos fibers. The fibers will cause inflammation in the lungs, but symptoms usually appear only after continued exposure.
Unfortunately, asbestosis is not curable. The treatment plan includes the management of symptoms and interventions that prevent the fast progression of the disease. Complications could include heart failure, lung cancer, and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease.
It is important to contact an asbestos testing and inspection professional early, to help avoid health issues before symptoms develop.
According to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, lung cancer is one of the greatest health risks for people working in an environment with asbestos hazards. Furthermore, when coupled with other carcinogens like cigarette smoke, asbestos exposure increases the chances of developing lung cancer by 90%.
Other Types of Cancers
Exposure to asbestos is also linked to an increased risk of laryngeal and ovarian cancer, according to the American Cancer Society. Inhaled fibers can lodge on the voice box (larynx) as air makes its way to the lungs. Along with other factors like excessive alcohol consumption and smoking, the risk becomes even more significant.
In addition, asbestos may also cause ovarian cancer.
Where You Might Find Asbestos Hazards in Your Home
Asbestos was widely used in over 3,000 products across different industries from 1930 to 1970. While the use of this toxic material waned after the 1970s, you can still find traces of the toxic substance in buildings and homes built within those time periods when asbestos use was at its peak. Furthermore, contrary to popular belief, there’s no total asbestos ban so even newer properties may still have traces of asbestos in different construction materials.
The most common places to find asbestos in your home include flooring, ceiling tiles, roof shingles, insulation, ductwork, sheet vinyl, cement, and wallboard.
Asbestos testing and inspection will most likely focus on key parts of the house, such as:
- Textured paint (such as popcorn ceilings)
- Vinyl floor tiles, sheets, and adhesives
- Cement used in siding shingles and roofing
- Steam pipes, furnaces, and other surfaces near wood-burning stoves, which may use asbestos paper or cement sheets to protect against heat and for insulation
Common everyday products like bricks, clothes, curtains, blankets, and ironing boards can also contain asbestos. These products do not use this toxic material when produced now, but older products could be lying around the home. When these products disintegrate, they could release asbestos fibers into the air.
Knowing the dire consequences that asbestos exposure could cause, home sellers, buyers, and homeowners should have asbestos testing done early.
How Is an Asbestos Testing and Inspection Done?
The risk of asbestos exposure is that it can have lasting adverse effects. Professional home inspectors trained in asbestos testing will make recommendations of items to sample and take samples of suspected materials around the house as directed. The inspector will send these samples to an asbestos analysis laboratory for testing and report findings.
If you’re planning to have asbestos testing and inspection in your home, here are a few safety tips:
- Shut off the HVAC system prior to the sampling. This is to help prevent the spread of asbestos fibers into the air while sampling.
- Do not disturb any suspected material prior to the inspection. Allow the professionals to handle it as they’re trained to safely collect samples for asbestos testing.
- Make sure no one else is in the room during sample collection, other than the asbestos professional.
- Talk with the inspector on the best course of action based on the findings of the laboratory.
Make sure that you hire the services of an experienced and reputable inspector and ask about their training. Some states require asbestos inspectors to go through courses and training to become accredited.
How to Use an Asbestos Testing Kit
We do not recommend testing for asbestos yourself. Depending on which state you live in, it may even be illegal to do testing yourself. A trained and certified asbestos inspector should be testing asbestos for you.
If you do plan to use an asbestos testing kit yourself, the kit will usually contain some protective gear and sample shipping instructions. Follow these steps to help keep you safe and limit exposure:
Asbestos Testing Setup
- Make sure the air in the area you are testing is still. This means closing windows, and turning off fans, air conditioning, and heating units. Not doing so can cause asbestos fibers to become airborne during the testing process.
- Wear proper protective, single-use gear that you can dispose of immediately after asbestos testing. Protective gear should include long sleeves and pants, shoe covers, gloves, and face mask (HEPA filtered).
- Lay a disposable sheet around the area and lightly spray all surfaces with water. This helps to catch any dust during testing.
Asbestos Sample Collection
- Spray a sharp knife and the air around you with water to minimize dust. Use the knife to remove a sample of the material you wish to test. The sample should weigh between 5 and 100 grams.
- Place a wet wipe between a pair of pliers and pick up the sample. Transfer the sample and wet wipe into a Ziplock plastic bag and seal the bag completely.
- Record where you took the sample from, the date, and what the sample contains on the bag. Place the bag inside another Ziplock plastic bag and seal completely.
- Fold the disposable sheet you laid and carefully place it into a trash bag. Tape the trash bag shut to prevent any loose fibers from escaping.
- Vacuum the area thoroughly and dispose of the vacuum bag by placing it in a trash bag and taping the bag shut. If you are using a bagless vacuum, wipe out the inside of the canister and then dispose of cleaning materials used.
- Wipe the area down with a wet cloth. Dispose of the wipe after, again taping the trash bag shut.
- Use a paintbrush to paint over the sampling area in order to seal in any loose dust. Dispose of the paintbrush after use.
- Remove all your protective gear and place it in a trash bag, then tape the trash bag closed.
Once you have thoroughly cleaned the area and sealed all asbestos related materials away, follow the instructions in your testing kit to send the sample to an EPA-certified laboratory.
What to Expect in Asbestos Testing and Inspection?
Because asbestos is not visible to the naked eye, a lab needs to examine the sample. Expect a few days to a few weeks turn around for results unless you’re paying more for urgent analysis. Working with an EPA-certified asbestos testing professional can help to speed up the process.
If Asbestos is Found, What Now?
If the asbestos test comes back positive for asbestos, you will need to take corrective action. This will require you to hire the services of an asbestos abatement contractor to do the proper repairs. To make sure you deal with the best person for the job, ask for the contractor’s credentials, and check with your local air pollution control board and the Better Business Bureau.
Here are a few safety tips to keep in mind before and during corrective work:
- The contractor should use only approved equipment and proper protective clothing for the job.
- Make sure that you have a written contract that details the full scope of work done.
- Your contractor should seal off the affected area before starting work to avoid contaminating other parts of the house.
- Don’t allow anyone near the hazardous area until after the work is complete.
- Your contractor should properly clean up the area after the completion of work.
- Have the area re-inspected and tested for asbestos and have the air quality checked after the contractor has completed their work.
Whether you’re buying, selling, or renovating an old house, safety should come first. And while asbestos inspection may be an additional expense on the ledger, this procedure can bring peace of mind and help keep you and your family safe. Contact a certified WIN Home Inspection professional today.