Asbestos is set of six naturally occurring silicate minerals. The names of six materials are, Amosite, Chrysotile, Tremolite, Actinolite, Anthophyllite and Crocidolite. Because of its properties such as heat resistance, strength and flexibility asbestos was used in various industries such as construction, automobile, garments, maritime, etc. Gradually harmful effects of asbestos fibres to humans came into picture and its role in disease such as lung cancer, asbestosis and mesothelioma became clear. When these harmful effects of asbestos became clear, asbestos was banned from many countries (more than 50 as of now) and many other restricted their usage to only a few products (USA for example allows asbestos usage in automobile brake lining etc.).
Why identifying asbestos is important for you?
Asbestos usage in past was extensive and while at many countries it is banned, products and construction done in past still stand and they are likely to have asbestos in them. Further, in most of countries across the world asbestos is still not banned. This is especially true in case of developing countries where there are little restrictions and regulation for asbestos industry. Further, asbestos can be anywhere, for example, it can be in tiles of your floor or roof, it can be part of your pipes, insulation, etc. Thus, irrespective you are living in a country where asbestos is banned, restricted or where it is not, it is wise choice to be able to identify asbestos.
It should be known than asbestos inside a tile, roofing, etc. is not dangerous as such. It becomes dangerous when with time the asbestos fibres get loose and become airborne. Apart from natural decay, human intervention such as breaking, drilling, renovation, etc. can also disturb this asbestos and release it in air. Thus from a passive stage the asbestos becomes an active risk. The most worrisome part is, if one is not careful you will never even know asbestos was even released.
How to identify asbestos at home?
In case the house you are living was constructed before 1980, there is a high chance it will have asbestos in it. Unfortunately, asbestos fibres are so fine (700-1000 times finer than that of hair) they are not visible through naked eyes. Thus the only way to identify or find out whether your house actually has asbestos is to look for probable places asbestos was used and then consult a laboratory and licensed inspector to test it.
Probable places where you can find asbestos at home are:
- Exteriors : Roof, corrugated roof, shingles, window putty
- Insulation : Batt insulation, vermiculite insulation, wall insulation
- Interiors and flooring : textured paint, asbestos flooring, acoustic finishes, sound proofing material, artificial ashes and embers
- Heating and boiling : duct lining, wall gaskets, door gaskets, heating surface covering, lining, wood / coal stoves
- Wiring and appliances : wiring insulation, switchboard panels, fuse boxes, freezers, dryers, toasters, dishwashers, range hoods, etc.
- Others : brake linings (cars), clutches, gaskets, patching compounds
Where can asbestos be in your house?
When and how to test your home for asbestos?
As mentioned earlier, asbestos packed in casings or mixed with other material is harmless. According to Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), presence of asbestos at home is fine until the source is tampered or malfunctions or wears out. It is these situations where there is a real risk of danger. So you should go for testing for asbestos at your house if:
- Date of construction of your house is before 1980s
- You can see some visible wear and tear at places where there is possibility of asbestos being used (say roofing, piping etc.)
- You plan to do a renovation which will require disturbing / demolishing locations / parts where there is possibility of asbestos being used (e.g. tiles, fire place, paints, etc.)
- You suspect there might be asbestos usage in the house and would like to test it to be sure about it
- You plan to buy an new house constructed before 1980s and would like to be sure if its asbestos free
If any of the above are true, you should NOT touch anything suspicious yourself. The next step is to call a licensed asbestos inspector for checking, sampling and analyzing possible locations of asbestos usage.
Under no circumstances, try to take sample or do any damage to the suspected area yourself as that will spread asbestos in air. Asbestos fibre being very light can stay in air for hours and days. In many cases, there is a clear mention of whether an appliance has asbestos in it. Thus in such cases if they are working fine, there is no danger. Only when you repair, open them there is a risk.
If based on above points you are suspicious of asbestos and want to test, call licensed asbestos inspector. He will be taking a sample of the suspicious material. He will also advise you to take precautions while it is done, such as removing furniture, etc.
The sample is small and tested in laboratory for asbestos. These tests should be done in laboratories which are approved by authorities. In case of USA, they should be listed under National Voluntary Laboratory Accreditation Program.
There are two popular tests which are used to identify asbestos – 1) transmission electron microscopy and 2) polarized light microscopy.
What if asbestos is confirmed in your house?
If the tests come positive, based on the condition of the product / location one should decide what to do. In case the sampled product is fine and working condition – one should let it be as it is. But if the area is degrading, broken or crumbling you should take steps to remove it as soon as possible. The removal is a very specialized process and should not be done by you. You should be calling a special abatement company which handles removal of asbestos.
Precaution, correct steps but not panic is what is required while handling asbestos cases at home. Make sure you get suspected locations and products checked and if tested positive opt for required abatement procedures.