Asbestos in Your Home: Precaution, Not Panic

By Leonard Wright

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) designated  April 30 – May 4  as “Air Quality Awareness Week.” While poor outdoor air quality is a major health concern, indoor air quality can also impact your health. This week, we look at ways you can protect yourself and your family from exposure to airborne asbestos fibers in your home.

asbestos home

Many older buildings contain thermal asbestos insulation in their heating systems. Photo credit: Flickr Creative Commons- sarflondondunc

Back in the early 80’s, my favorite tennis player was John McEnroe. I loved his brashness and was entertained by his over-the-top antics. During one Wimbledon match, the color commentator, Bud Collins, said, “John McEnroe was the kid with the asbestos hands.” The way he was able to take the fire out of the ball on hard-hit shots, he was a master with the racket. Collins meant this statement as a compliment—and in its glory days, asbestos was a sign of superior quality and excellence. Long considered a miracle material for its excellent fire and heat-resistant properties, it made products stronger and longer lasting.

This durability also meant that thin asbestos fibers that enter the lungs stay there a long time. We eventually learned that asbestos caused cancer and that prolonged exposure could lead to serious health problems:

  • Lung cancer
  • Mesothelioma, a rare form of cancer that is found in the thin lining of the lungs
  • Asbestosis, a serious, progressive non-cancer lung disease

Now that we know more about the health risks of asbestos, we know to take appropriate precautions to minimize or eliminate exposure for workers, home owners, and commercial builders.

Do you have asbestos in your home?

asbestos home

Asbestos tape was often used to seal furnace ducts. Photo credit Flickr Creative Commons-anneheathen

Asbestos was once used in many building products, from roofing to flooring and everything in between. We still find asbestos-containing materials in many older homes. It can be found in sprayed-on “popcorn” ceilings, vinyl tiles, boiler and duct wrap, even sheet rock.

Because you can’t tell if a material contains asbestos simply by looking at it, we require inspections by state-certified asbestos inspectors before renovation and demolition projects move forward—unless you choose to do the work yourself. If you use a contractor to remodel your home, materials found to contain asbestos must be removed by a certified asbestos-removal contractor before being disturbed.

What can you do if you think you have asbestos in your home?

Don’t panic. Asbestos does not pose a threat unless the fibers become airborne, and materials that are in good condition should not release asbestos fibers. You can submit a small sample of suspected asbestos-containing materials to several Utah laboratories that will provide you with quick results at a reasonable cost. You can use a certified asbestos removal contractor to obtain a sample or you can do it yourself using precautions provided on our website.

What should you do if you find asbestos in your home?

asbestos home

Asbestos abatement companies take steps to protect you and their workers from inadvertent exposure to asbestos. Photo credit: Flickr Creative Commons- asbestos testing

If the inspection and laboratory results confirm the presence of asbestos, your best bet is to leave it alone. If asbestos-containing material is in good condition and isn’t disturbed by cutting, drilling—or a 10-year-old knocking sparkles off the ceiling—it should be perfectly safe.

If you plan to renovate or otherwise disturb the material, or if the asbestos material is in bad shape—breaking apart, crumbling, unraveling, or frayed—it may be time to have it removed or repaired. We have many reputable firms in Utah. Get several bids and ask the professionals what options they recommend. It is often a good idea to hire one contractor to remove the asbestos and another to take samples, ensure the contractor removing the material is following proper procedures, and monitors the air quality after the removal is completed.

Remember, asbestos fibers can be a problem, but overreaction to it can create an even bigger problem. Educate yourself and evaluate your exposure. The more you are exposed to asbestos, the greater your chance of developing adverse health effects. You can’t change past exposure, but you can minimize it in the future and limit its impact on you and your family.

Got more questions? Check out our website or visit the Environmental Protection Agency’s asbestos web pages to find out how more about how you can protect your family, hire an asbestos professional, and find answers to EPA’s Top 20 Asbestos Questions about asbestos in your home, your car, or your child’s school. If you choose to remove the asbestos fibers yourself, be sure to read our removal procedures for home owners to reduce your risk of exposure or contamination.

Leonard WrightI am a graduate of Weber State University. I began working at the DEQ in February, 2014. I enjoy spending my free time with my wife, Ashley, and our three boys, ages 18, 16, and 14. We all love baseball, so we spend our time traveling to games and enjoying the crack/ping of the bat.