These days, most people are aware that exposure to asbestos—a heat-resistant material that was used in many industrial, production, and construction fields until around 1980—has been linked to mesothelioma, as well as other cancers and lung conditions.
What most people don’t know is that asbestos—and risk of asbestos exposure—may be lurking in their own homes.
Most modern homes are not constructed with materials containing asbestos. However, if your home was built before then, there’s a significant chance that it was constructed with materials that may contain asbestos fibers. If those fibers are disturbed and sent into the air (as they may be, for instance, during home renovation projects), it may result in acute asbestos exposure, which can be dangerous to your health and increase your risk of developing mesothelioma.
Where can asbestos be found in the home?
In homes built before 1980, asbestos may be found in:
- Floor tiles: Asbestos is especially common in floor tiles made of “resilient” materials, such as vinyl, asphalt, and rubber, and in the backing of vinyl sheet floorings.
- Steam pipes, furnaces/furnace ducts, and boilers: This common heating equipment is often insulated by asbestos paper tape or blankets.
- Cement sheet, paper, and millboard: Most commonly used to insulate furnaces or woodburning stoves, these materials may also contain asbestos.
- Walls and ceilings: Asbestos may be present in patching and joint compounds, as well as soundproofing, decorative materials, and textured paints on walls and ceilings.
- Door gaskets: If you have a furnace, wood stove, or coal stove in your home, the door gaskets may contain asbestos.
- Roofing, shingles, and siding: Some houses contain asbestos on the outside, which is harder to disturb, but still potentially dangerous if drilled or sanded.
- Older household products: If you have fireproof gloves, ironing board covers, hairdryers, or stovetop pads that are over 30 years old, they may potentially contain asbestos.
- Car parts: Certain parts of older cars may be manufactured with asbestos, especially brake pads and linings, clutch facings, and gaskets. These days, asbestos is not usually used to manufacture car parts, but if you are working on a classic car, ask your mechanic about the risk of asbestos exposure before doing any involved work on the brakes, clutch, or gasket.
How can I tell if my home contains asbestos?
Unless materials are labeled, you can’t tell for sure whether they contain asbestos. If in doubt, treat materials you think may contain asbestos as if they contain asbestos, and have them evaluated by a qualified asbestos professional.
If something in my home contains asbestos, do I have to have it removed?
Sometimes, but not always! Your need for asbestos removal or abatement depends on a number of factors. In some cases, you may not need to take any action at all.
It is important to remember that asbestos is only dangerous if the fibers are disturbed and inhaled. Asbestos-containing materials that are in good condition and will not be disturbed (for example, by remodeling) should be left alone. In those cases, it may actually be more dangerous to disturb the fibers in an attempt to remove them than to leave them where they are.
You only need to be concerned about asbestos in the home when it comes to materials or parts of your home that may be disturbed (for example, by renovation, repair, or by age/damage to the material or part of the home). If you suspect these parts or materials contain asbestos, it is best to obtain a professional asbestos evaluation, especially before any planned renovations or repairs. If you get professional confirmation that something in your home contains asbestos, and it is either significantly damaged or you plan on disturbing it by repairing or replacing it, then and only then should you look for an asbestos abatement and removal specialist.
Importantly, you should not attempt to encapsulate, repair, or remove asbestos in your home on your own. DIY asbestos abatement or removal can be dangerous to you and your family, and potentially to others.
Instead, find an asbestos professional trained and certified to handle asbestos material. If the asbestos in question is in your pipes, roofing, tiling, or automobile, you may need to find a specialist roofing/tiling specialist or mechanic. It is best to get cost estimates from several professionals, as the cost for these services may vary.
Ask asbestos professionals to document their federal or state-approved training, and to share any documentation or recommendations from completed projects. Each person working on the asbestos removal or abatement should be able to provide their own proof of training and licensing in asbestos work. You may be able to find known state or federally approved asbestos abatement professionals at your nearest state or local health departments or EPA regional offices, or on the websites of same.