Where Does Asbestos Lurk?
Asbestos is found in most all residential and industrial buildings that were refurbished or built prior to the year 2000. Many of the common materials that are used to build homes and buildings contain asbestos.
Asbestos in your Environment
Asbestos is a mineral that occurs naturally in the environment. It is a strong heat resistant fiber that was used to strengthen building materials and act as a fire retardant. However, it’s made up of very fine particles that become deadly when inhaled. You can’t see them as they enter your body through your nose or mouth, then travel to your lungs. In fact, unless you know it’s there, you would not even know if you had been exposed to asbestos.
Some common locations to find asbestos in the United States are Arizona, California, Alaska, and Washington State. Many of these areas were mined for the asbestos and federal agencies are required to contain the toxic effects of the deadly dust.
Products Made with Asbestos
Asbestos quietly hides within the walls of homes, offices, and industrial buildings waiting for the opportunity to drop in and pay an unwelcome visit. Asbestos will stay hidden and relatively safe until it is disturbed. That is when it becomes dangerous.
The United States banned asbestos materials in late 1970’s and phased it out through the 1990’s. Even though asbestos materials were no longer used for building, anything built prior to the ban remained as is.
Common materials or products that contain asbestos include:
- Insulation for attics, pipes, and furnaces
- Roofing and siding tiles
- Plaster compounds
- Asbestos and cement shingles
- Paints and adhesives
- Many floor tiles as well as flooring adhesives
- Soundproofing applications
- Electrical wiring casings
It is important to know where to look for asbestos because the diseases that are caused by it can be completely prevented. Removing asbestos should be done by a trained professional.
Asbestos in the Home
Asbestos is commonly found in homes built before 1980. If you are going to be buying an older home or renovating one, you should know where to look for asbestos and what to do if you find it.
Asbestos is not hazardous until it is airborne. Generally, if you do not poke around for it and leave it undisturbed it isn’t harmful. However, be aware that some asbestos can become air born without you touching it at all. Insulation around furnaces and pipes deteriorate. As the insulation breaks down it releases dust into the air. Ceilings that contain asbestos also eventually break down. Movement from a ceiling fan or from patching the ceiling can release these deadly particles into the air.
The most common places to find asbestos in the home are:
- Water tanks
- Air duct coverings
- Textured paint
- Door gaskets
- Popcorn ceilings
- Vinyl floor tiles
- Floor and walls around wood burning stoves
- Exterior window panels
- Cement panels
Homes with old caulking and woodstoves are other common places to find asbestos. If you have an older home and plan to remodel, make sure to consult a professional who can check for asbestos before you begin removing or replacing parts.
Asbestos in the Workplace
Many industrial buildings, including schools built before 1980 contain asbestos. You are likely to find asbestos in the following products and areas:
- Sprayed ceilings, walls, columns, and beams
- Water tanks
- Loose fill insulation
- Ceiling tiles
- Panels in fire doors
- Partition walls
- Around boilers
- Cement roofs
- Gutters and pipes
Although asbestos was removed from a majority of the buildings in the late 1970’s, millions of schools and buildings still contain asbestos. It is uncertain exactly how many people have died from asbestos related disease because patients are typically first diagnosed with some other respiratory problem. It is also very difficult to connect these diseases to asbestos as patients don’t typically show symptoms until 10 to 40 years after exposure.
Again, only a licensed and trained professional should be handling asbestos. They have been properly trained and use special equipment and protective gear to shield themselves from the dangerous particles.