How to recognize asbestos

When people hear the word “asbestos,” their first thought is often one of the dozens of personal injury ads they’ve seen on TV featuring a fast-talking voice actor and a bright, bold 1-800 number emblazoned on the screen. Yet despite its association with questionable advertising, asbestos remains a very real danger as nearly 15,000 people die every year from asbestos exposure in the U.S.

The greatest risk for many homeowners occurs when remodeling or renovating an older home that was built before modern-day regulations were put in place. Fortunately, there are precautions you can take to help identify asbestos in your home and prevent it from becoming a major health risk.

Read on to learn more about the signs of asbestos and what you can do to keep your family safe.

What Is Asbestos?

Asbestos is a set of minerals known for their resistance to heat, fire and electricity. Because of these properties, it was widely used in everything from building insulation to oven mitts throughout the 20th century. But by the 1970s, public knowledge of asbestos’ ability to cause cancer, especially a rare, aggressive form of the disease called mesothelioma, caused governments around the world to ban or extremely limit its use in both industrial and consumer products.

Today, asbestos use is heavily regulated in the U.S., yet it still lingers in many homes throughout the country, as Emily Walsh, director of community outreach for the Mesothelioma Cancer Alliance, explains:

“One of the biggest misconceptions, especially with home renovation, is that asbestos is no longer a concern because it’s been regulated. To this day in the United States, certain materials and other products are allowed to contain up to one percent of asbestos, not accounting for those imported from other countries.”

And even regulations meant to deal with existing asbestos have a huge blind spot. “This regulation [the Asbestos Hazard Emergency Response Act] by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) also fails to address the concentrations of asbestos found in homes built before the late 1970s, before regulations were put into place,” says Walsh.

How to recognize asbestos

Asbestos is commonly found in the course of remodeling or renovating a home built before the late 1970s.

It’s important to note that asbestos is only a health risk in a friable, or dust-like, form, allowing its microscopic fibers to be inhaled. In cases where undisturbed asbestos is found, the best course of action is usually to leave it instead of removing it to avoid contaminating the home with asbestos dust.

What Are the Signs of Asbestos?

But how do you find and identify asbestos in your home in the first place? Part of what makes asbestos so difficult to detect is the fact that it was used in so many different materials, as Walsh explains:

“Asbestos can be found almost anywhere in the home. It was used in a variety of construction products, including cement, insulation, adhesives, siding, roofing tiles, textured paints, and vinyl flooring.”

Despite the difficulty, there are some red flags to look out for when working on your home, especially if it was built prior to the late 1970s, such as:

  • Crumbling drywall
  • Cracked siding
  • Damaged shingles
  • Discolored or cracked floor tiles
  • Old corrugated cement roofing
  • Brittle ceiling tiles or coatings
  • Frayed building or piping insulation

Remember, finding any of the above materials doesn’t mean that your home has asbestos. The only way to confirm its presence is by testing the material. “Asbestos can’t really be seen by the naked eye, so it’s important to have your home tested to yield conclusive results,” says Walsh.

Additionally, you can reduce your chances of exposure by following a few basic home improvement safety tips:

“Anyone renovating, either DIYer or professional, should wear the proper gear when taking on a project. This could include wearing an asbestos respirator mask and protective clothing, as loose fibers can cling to clothing and be tracked throughout the house.”
Emily Walsh

How to recognize asbestos

Damaged asbestos-containing materials often feature frayed, serpentine fibers.

What to Do if You Find Asbestos in Your Home

If you suspect you’ve found asbestos in your home, do not touch the material. Look for signs of wear, such as water damage or tears. If the material looks disturbed, limit access to the area and call a licensed asbestos tester to take samples for testing.

“Home inspections are the best place to start. A trained asbestos professional should be the only one testing for the mineral, as the process disrupts the fibers and can lead to exposure. Asbestos only poses a threat once it has been disturbed or damaged, so finding out it is part of your home may serve as a red flag before going through with a renovation.”
Emily Walsh

If the material is undamaged, and it doesn’t need to be removed as part of your project, then it is usually better to leave it in place. Consult a specialist to confirm that this is the safest choice for your home.

Who Should You Call for Asbestos Removal?

If the asbestos-containing material is clearly damaged and poses an exposure risk, you will need to call an abatement specialist to have it removed. Professional asbestos removal contractors can be found throughout the country, but you should always verify their credentials with your state’s asbestos program before hiring one.

“If the materials have already been damaged, the only real remedy is to call a professional to remove the toxic mineral. Until then, homeowners may want to restrict entry into that specific room or leave the house until they are sure no one will be exposed.”
Emily Walsh

If the asbestos is throughout your home, you may have to stay elsewhere while the abatement specialist removes it. Your contractor will be able to tell you when it is safe to return.

How Much Does Asbestos Removal Cost?

Removing asbestos from a home can be expensive, with smaller jobs often falling within the $1,500 to $3,000 range. In cases where asbestos is found throughout the home, removal can easily cost between $20,000 and $30,000.

It is possible that your state may offer financial assistance for costly asbestos removal. Call your regional EPA office or your state’s department of environmental protection for more information on these programs.

The best advice for identifying and removing asbestos in your home is not to panic. As long as you know what to look for and when to call a professional, you’ll be able to keep yourself and your family safe.

“When it comes to renovations, your health and wellbeing should take precedence over everything else, and the best way to do that is by getting your home tested, wearing protective gear, and calling a professional when necessary.”
Emily Walsh

Asbestos was officially banned in the UK in 1999, but it still remains a serious risk to our health. As a building material used for insulation, flooring and roofing, asbestos is often present in older buildings and warehouses. If asbestos is exposed and small fibres are inhaled, they can remain in your lungs for a long period of time and can cause scaring and inflammation. This can lead to directly related medical conditions, including asbestosis, lung cancer and mesothelioma.

It is often difficult to identify whether a business or place of work is at risk of asbestos as symptoms of asbestos-related illnesses often do not manifest for several years, or even decades. This is why it is important for UK businesses to seek the help of a registered OSHCR consultant who specialises in asbestos in order to protect employees from potentially life threatening conditions.

Here are 5 warning signs that you may be showing signs of an asbestos-related disease:

1 Shortness of Breath

If you have inhaled asbestos fibres, they can cause scar tissue to form in your lungs which is known as asbestosis. This scar tissue can make it difficult to breathe and shortness of breath can be one of the first signs of an asbestos related illness.

2 Swollen Fingertips

A tell-tale sign of asbestosis is swollen fingertips, in around half of cases. Also known as clubbing, swelling in the tips of the fingers, when the fingertips appear broader and rounder, is a common symptom of this type of asbestos-related condition.

3 Fatigue

Extreme tiredness can be a sign of an asbestos-related condition and when combined with other common symptoms, such as shortness of breath and swollen fingertips, can be an indication of an asbestos related illness, such as mesothelioma or lung cancer.

4 Wheezing

Wheezing is caused when there is inflammation present in the lungs and often causes a whistling sound, especially when taking a deep breath. In asbestos related conditions, for those who don’t smoke, wheezing can be a cause for concern and may indicate that you have been exposed to asbestos.

5 Persistent Dry Cough

As the effects of asbestos can remain undetectable for many years after exposure, a persistent cough can be an indication of a possible asbestos-related condition. Even 40 years after initial contact, patients can develop a persistent cough due to scar tissue forming in the lungs over time.

In the UK, the workers most at risk are those in shipyards, those working with aircraft and automobiles, miners, building construction companies, electricians and railroad workers; however, asbestos can also be present in office buildings and warehouses, or any public or residential building that was constructed before the 1980s

If you believe that your business or place of work may be at risk of asbestos, find an OSHCR registered consultant now.

Do you have asbestos in your house? Discover what it is, if you’ve been exposed, how to test for it and the best methods for removal.

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How to recognize asbestos

What Is Asbestos?

Asbestos. The name has its origin in the Greek word for inextinguishable. A highly-effective and inexpensive fire-retardant material and thermal and acoustic insulator, asbestos was used extensively in home construction from the early 1940s through the 1970s.

Is Asbestos Harmful to My Health?

Yes. We now know that prolonged exposure to asbestos fibers can lead to lung disease. When disturbed, tiny abrasive asbestos fibers are easily inhaled, which damages lung tissue and can cause cancer. In homes built prior to 1975, asbestos is most commonly found as thermal insulation on basement boilers and pipes.

Unfortunately, it can also be found in a myriad of other household materials including:

  • Blown-in attic insulation
  • Vinyl floor tiles
  • Glue that attaches floor tiles to concrete or wood
  • Some forms of linoleum
  • Window caulking and glazing
  • Roofing material (usually on flat roofs but occasionally on shingles)
  • HVAC duct insulation (usually found in corrugated or flat paper form)
  • Siding material
  • Plaster
  • Fiber cement siding (usually 1/8 ” thick and 8’x4′ brittle)
  • Corrugated heavy duty 8’x4′ panels
  • Some forms of paint

The mere presence of asbestos in your home is not hazardous.

When Is Asbestos in a Home Dangerous?

Generally, material in good condition will not release asbestos fibers and disturbing it may create a health hazard where none existed before. The best thing to do with asbestos material in good condition is leave it alone.

The danger comes from asbestos material that has been damaged over time. Asbestos that crumbles easily if handled, or that has been sawed, scraped, or sanded into a powder is likely to release asbestos fibers and create a health hazard.

How Do I Know If Asbestos Is in My House?

Check for Tears, Abrasions or Water Damage

If you suspect a part of your home may contain asbestos, check periodically for tears, abrasions or water damage. If you discover slightly damaged material, limit access to the area and do not touch or disturb it. If asbestos material is more than slightly damaged, or if you are going to make changes in your home that might disturb it, professional repair or removal is needed.

Call for an Inspection First

Before calling an asbestos abatement contractor, however, you should contact an industrial hygiene firm to inspect the affected area. A proper assessment will include a complete visual examination and careful collection and analysis of samples.

If asbestos is present, the inspector should provide a written evaluation describing its location and extent of damage, and give recommendations for correction or prevention.

Also, this inspector can perform checks after removal or repair to assure the area has been properly cleaned. With this report in hand, homeowners can then contact an asbestos abatement contractor and negotiate a clean-up plan.

Contact an Asbestos Abatement Contractor

Before work begins, get a written contract specifying the work plan, cleanup and the applicable federal, state, and local regulations which the contractor must follow (such as permits, notification requirements and asbestos disposal procedures).

You can contact your state and local health departments, the Environmental Protection Agency’s regional office and the Occupational Safety and Health Administration’s regional office to find out more about these regulations.

Removal

If you decide on removal, be sure to get written assurance from the contractor that he or she has followed all local asbestos removal and disposal laws.

6 Tips for a Safe Asbestos Removal Process

  1. Homeowners should also ask for a disposal manifest prior to paying the final bill to verify that the material will be disposed of in a landfill licensed to receive asbestos.
  2. Only contractors licensed by the state to perform asbestos abatement activities should undertake its repair and removal. As when hiring any contractor, ask for references and a list of similar projects that the contractor has recently completed.
  3. Check with your local air pollution control board, the local agency responsible for worker safety and the Better Business Bureau to see if the firm has had any safety violations.
  4. Insist that the contractor use the proper equipment to do the job and that workers wear approved respirators, gloves and other protective clothing.
  5. Homeowners should also verify that the contractor has a general liability and workman’s compensation policies that cover this type of work. In many states, contractors are required by law to notify federal, state and local agencies that they are about to perform abatement activities.
  6. At the end of the job, before the contractor removes its containment system, the industrial hygiene specialist who first evaluated the property should return to take air samples to be sure that no asbestos fibers have accidentally escaped.

Repairing after asbestos

Repair involves either sealing or covering asbestos material.

3 Tips on Repair

  • Repair is usually cheaper than removal, but it may make later removal of asbestos, if necessary, more difficult and costly.
  • Repairs can either be major or minor.
  • Doing minor repairs yourself is not recommended; improper handling of asbestos materials creates more problems than it solves.

Sealing

Sealing (encapsulation) treats the material with a sealant that either binds the asbestos fibers together or coats the material so fibers are not released. Pipe, furnace, and boiler insulation can be repaired this way.

Covering

Covering (enclosure) involves placing a protective wrap or jacket around the material that contains asbestos to prevent the release of fibers. Only a professional trained to handle asbestos safely should undertake these repairs. With any type of repair, the asbestos remains in place.

For further help in dealing with asbestos problems in the home, contact your state’s environmental affairs agency. If handled properly, asbestos can be prevented from ever causing a problem in your home.

One of the most frequently asked questions we receive is ‘what does asbestos look like?’. To help answer, we have compiled a comprehensive gallery of asbestos containing materials (ACMs) found in both domestic and commercial properties.

Due to the stabilising and heat resistant capabilities of asbestos, it was frequently used in the construction and building industry until it was banned in 1999. This means that many houses built prior to the year 2000 still contain asbestos materials. Asbestos was used in a wide range of materials, ranging from decorative ceilings to vinyl floor tiles.

How to recognize asbestos

How to Identify Asbestos?

In many cases, it can be difficult to conclusively determine whether a material contains asbestos from visual inspection. Some products contain identification marks, which will advise whether the material contains asbestos. For items without identification marks, there are a number of specialist asbestos laboratories that provide testing and analysis services.

In 1984, non-asbestos cement sheets were introduced into the UK market. These sheets look very similar to the asbestos containing sheets, which makes identification difficult. Although an alternative became available, the asbestos sheets were cheaper, so they continued to be widely used until the ban in 1999.

There are six types of asbestos – chrysotile (white asbestos), amosite (brown asbestos), crocidolite (blue asbestos), tremolite, anthophyllite and actinolite. Each has a different appearance and properties, but as asbestos is mixed in with other materials, it is almost impossible to determine the type of asbestos in a product without laboratory testing.

The images below will give you a better understanding of what asbestos looks like, and some of the most common places you are likely to find asbestos containing materials. If you suspect that your property may contain asbestos, we advise that you have an asbestos survey conducted.

Asbestos was officially banned in the UK in 1999, but it still remains a serious risk to our health. As a building material used for insulation, flooring and roofing, asbestos is often present in older buildings and warehouses. If asbestos is exposed and small fibres are inhaled, they can remain in your lungs for a long period of time and can cause scaring and inflammation. This can lead to directly related medical conditions, including asbestosis, lung cancer and mesothelioma.

It is often difficult to identify whether a business or place of work is at risk of asbestos as symptoms of asbestos-related illnesses often do not manifest for several years, or even decades. This is why it is important for UK businesses to seek the help of a registered OSHCR consultant who specialises in asbestos in order to protect employees from potentially life threatening conditions.

Here are 5 warning signs that you may be showing signs of an asbestos-related disease:

1 Shortness of Breath

If you have inhaled asbestos fibres, they can cause scar tissue to form in your lungs which is known as asbestosis. This scar tissue can make it difficult to breathe and shortness of breath can be one of the first signs of an asbestos related illness.

2 Swollen Fingertips

A tell-tale sign of asbestosis is swollen fingertips, in around half of cases. Also known as clubbing, swelling in the tips of the fingers, when the fingertips appear broader and rounder, is a common symptom of this type of asbestos-related condition.

3 Fatigue

Extreme tiredness can be a sign of an asbestos-related condition and when combined with other common symptoms, such as shortness of breath and swollen fingertips, can be an indication of an asbestos related illness, such as mesothelioma or lung cancer.

4 Wheezing

Wheezing is caused when there is inflammation present in the lungs and often causes a whistling sound, especially when taking a deep breath. In asbestos related conditions, for those who don’t smoke, wheezing can be a cause for concern and may indicate that you have been exposed to asbestos.

5 Persistent Dry Cough

As the effects of asbestos can remain undetectable for many years after exposure, a persistent cough can be an indication of a possible asbestos-related condition. Even 40 years after initial contact, patients can develop a persistent cough due to scar tissue forming in the lungs over time.

In the UK, the workers most at risk are those in shipyards, those working with aircraft and automobiles, miners, building construction companies, electricians and railroad workers; however, asbestos can also be present in office buildings and warehouses, or any public or residential building that was constructed before the 1980s

If you believe that your business or place of work may be at risk of asbestos, find an OSHCR registered consultant now.

How to recognize asbestos

Asbestos insulation is a very common problem that many people have to deal with at some point. Several years ago, asbestos was commonly used in everything from shingles to floor tiles and asbestos insulation was used in many homes that were built in the 1950s and 1960s. With many homes from that era still standing, it is no surprise to run into asbestos in some capacity. While it was common in that time period, it does not mean that you will necessarily have asbestos insulation just because you have an older house.

Properly identifying asbestos insulation can help you avoid some serious health problems in the future. Asbestos has been directly linked to causing mesothelioma and lung cancer as a result of breathing it in. The small fibers that come off of asbestos can kill you. Therefore, if you have asbestos insulation, you need to properly identify it and have it safely removed from your house.

Step 1 – Determine the Age of Your House

The first thing that you need to do is determine exactly when your home was constructed. Some houses look very old, but they have just been maintained poorly. You need to find out if your house was built before 1989 or not, as this was the year that asbestos was officially banned by the Environmental Protection Agency. If it was built before then, there is a chance that there could be asbestos in your walls.

Step 2 – Prepare for an Encounter with Asbestos

If you are at risk of coming into direct contact with asbestos, you need to make sure that you are protected. The last thing that you want to do is be breathing around asbestos insulation. Asbestos, if disturbed, can release microscopic fibers that get down into your lungs. Asbestos will not kill you immediately, but it is similar to smoking cigarettes. It will take a long period of time to make a difference.

When you are ready to look at the insulation, make sure that you wear protective clothing. You need safety goggles, a protective mask, a respirator, gloves, and a protective suit. While you could get by without these precautions, you should not take any unnecessary risks if you’re unsure of what you’re dealing with.

Step 3 – Take a Sample

Asbestos insulation usually looks like a loose gray material, and it is also commonly wrapped around the outside of pipes. Take a small sample of the insulation and place it into a sealed container.

Step 4 – Have it Analyzed

There are a number of labs out there that can analyze asbestos for you. They have to be certified by the EPA and they have to use a method called polarizing light microscopy to tell for sure.

In the event that your suspicions are confirmed, you need to immediately arrange to have a professional team go through and remove all possible asbestos from your home. Until the insulation is removed, it will not be safe to live in your home.

How to recognize asbestos

We’ve long understood the dangers of inhaling and disturbing asbestos fibers. Especially in older homes, it’s crucial for homeowners to know the risks and to act appropriately. Older homes can have asbestos in many different places, like attic insulation, furnaces, floor tiles, and hot water pipe insulation. The common wisdom is that you should not disturb asbestos, but rather leave it in place. If it gets disturbed, you’ll need to seek the help of a professional asbestos abatement company to take care of the problem.

The question many homeowners have, however, is how to identify asbestos in the first place! For instance, asbestos can be found in some different kinds of walls and loose-fill attic insulation . If it’s sealed up in batt form, there is no cause for concern, but if it has been poured loosely into joists or stud cavities, there may be more trouble.

Your best course of action is to have an attic professional inspect your attic insulation to ensure that there is no asbestos present, or if it is, help you understand if it is dangerous and needs to be mitigated. If it poses no risk, it likely can be safely left in place.

How can I tell if my insulation contains asbestos?

Close inspection can usually indicate whether or not your attic insulation contains asbestos. For instance, if the loose-fill is gray, soft, and lacking a shine, it is most likely made from cellulose containing a high content of the recycled paper and no minerals. If it looks like it’s just shredded paper, it’s probably safe.

You may see insulation that is white and fluffy but with a slight shine. More often than not, this kind of attic insulation is fiberglass. The subtle sheen is caused by the light shining on the tiny glass fibers that it is made out of. Soft to the touch, fiberglass attic insulation can cause skin irritation and breathing issues, but it is asbestos-free and poses no long term health effects.

Other kinds of attic insulation are composed of materials, both natural and man-made. Some pose slight health risks, but those containing asbestos need to be taken care of immediately. Unfortunately, the only way to honestly know if there is an issue is by performing a close inspection of the materials and testing them to see any dangerous compounds present. Many harmful substances can hide in your insulation . Be sure to get it inspected by professionals to avoid harming yourself or your family.

I own an older home. Who should I contact to check my attic insulation for asbestos?

Attic Projects attic insulation technicians are the true experts when it comes to inspecting attic insulation for asbestos. We use the latest, safest protective gear to safely and effectively inspect your attic insulation. We can help you determine whether or not the problem poses a risk, and if so, are the experts when it comes to asbestos mitigation.

The potential of exposure to you and your family by asbestos should not be a concern that keeps you up at night. Let the Attic Projects professionals give you peace of mind. Give us a call, and we’ll make sure that your attic insulation is safe and effective.

Non-asbestos alternatives to asbestos cement began to be introduced to the UK market in 1984, but asbestos cement products continued to be supplied into the UK market until 1999.

As such, any product that appears visually similar to asbestos cement that was supplied prior to 1984 will almost certainly contain asbestos, but any product used between 1984 and 1999 could be an ACM.

Unless an identification mark is present on the product, it is not usually possible for a layman to identify whether a sheet contains asbestos or not, and in many cases even an expert can not tell without finding the mark or having a sample analysed.

With slates, the mark was ink jetted on to the back of approximately one in twenty products, with the same letters denoting whether they contain asbestos or not. Finding these marks can be a problem.

With the above in mind, a quantity of slates will need to be removed before the mark is found, and so unless you have good reason to believe that they are non-asbestos they should be treated as an asbestos cement ACM from the onset.

How to recognize asbestos

For roofs fixed after 1984, when the slates could be asbestos cement or non-asbestos, looking at the original specification may help, however it was common at this time for a number of specifications to be changed by the roofing contractor. Because asbestos cement slates were cheaper than their non-asbestos alternatives, the roofing contractor may have opted for using asbestos cement slates without notifying the client and the designer of this change.

In this situation, it is recommended to carefully remove a small sample of the product (see asbestos removal) and have this analysed by a competent laboratory. If constraints do not allow this, then the material should be assumed to be an ACM and treated as such.

In addition to the above problems, unless the roof was built fairly recently, it is highly likely that it will be dirty and covered in moss and lichens, unless it has been well maintained. This is a problem which will once again make finding and identifying the manufacturers’ marks of products such a tricky task.

It should of course be remembered that when accessing the roof to check for the mark, that both asbestos cement and un-reinforced fibre cement sheets are very fragile. All operatives must be provided with protection to ensure that they cannot fall through the product and subsequently injure themselves; a far more immediate and serious risk than the risk of catching an asbestos related disease.

Identification of asbestos in profiled sheets is not a great deal easier, either; although the sheets should carry the indent on the overlap roll, this did not always happen, and even if there is an imprint, this may simply be too difficult to read.

The manufacturers’ mark on profiled sheets is indented into the overlap of the side lap roll. Usually in code form, the name of the manufacturer, the date of manufacture, the shift and possibly the machine it was made on will be provided here. If the product contains asbestos, then the manufacturers’ mark should include the letters AC; similarly, if the product is non-asbestos, then it should contain the letters NT.

In the mid 1990s, some profiled sheet manufacturers started to inkjet the underside of their sheets with the production mark.

For other moulded products, the position of the mark will vary, with some having no mark. Where there is a mark, the same lettering applies.

Very few flat sheet products will have any marks.

If you’re looking to find out more about Friable and Non Friable Asbestos, you can find information here: What are the Differences between Friable and Non-Friable Asbestos?