Is Asbestos in Your House Dangerous?
Asbestos is a natural mineral composed of thin fibers. When residential construction products made with asbestos are damaged, those fibers become airborne and could pose a danger to anyone who inhales the toxic dust.
After years of exposure to those fibers, people may develop a cancer known as mesothelioma, which forms tumors on the lining of the lungs, abdomen or heart.
Where Can Asbestos Be Found in Your House? Many U.S. homes and public structures, such as schools, government housing and office buildings built before the 1980s, contain asbestos in:
Ceiling and Floor Tiles
While many residential uses for asbestos were phased out, it remains legal in the U.S. for more than a dozen applications. Asbestos use has declined significantly since the late 1970s, when the U.S. banned spray-on asbestos and several other uses. However, many older homes still contain asbestos.
Common Exposure Scenarios Asbestos exposure in your home can occur in different ways: DIY renovation, drilling through drywall or replacing an old pipe. The following scenarios describe how homeowners can expose themselves to asbestos at home. Attic insulation in older homes may contain asbestos that could fall through ceiling cracks. Attic Renovation While remodeling the attic of his 1960s home, John found piles of brown pebble-like insulation. He decided to replace the existing insulation with new fiberglass insulation to save money in the winter months. He scooped the loose insulation into some garbage bags and installed the new material. John had no idea that his attic was insulated with asbestos-containing vermiculite. By disturbing the material, he spread asbestos fibers in the air. John should have left the insulation alone and had it tested for asbestos before disturbing it. Older brakes and foreign-made brakes may contain asbestos. Brake Dust in Home Garage Ralph loves working on his 1965 Corvette Stingray. When his brakes started to squeal, Ralph wanted to replace them in his own garage. After removing the rear tires, he saw the brake drums were covered in dust. He banged the sides with a hammer and blew off the dust with an air compressor. Because some brake components contain asbestos, spraying them with compressed air can release toxic fibers into the air. Ralph should have taken his car to the shop for service or wiped down the brake drums gently with a wet cloth. Drilling into drywall containing asbestos will release fibers into the air. Drilling in Drywall Erica recently won a painting at a silent auction and couldn’t wait to bring it home and hang it in her living room. She measured carefully and used a drill to install drywall anchors to keep the painting in place. The painting wasn’t level, so she had to drill a few more holes before it hung perfectly. She had no idea her home was built with asbestos-containing drywall. When she drilled through the wall to hang her painting, asbestos fibers from the drywall escaped into her living room. Erica should have known about the asbestos in her walls and left it alone. Loose vinyl tiles with exposed asbestos-containing adhesive. Removing Vinyl Floor Tiles Herman just purchased a 1950s fixer-upper in his home town, and his first project was upgrading the master bathroom. He decided to start by removing the vinyl floor tile. He removed the existing tiles with a scraper and installed the new tile. Asbestos was a common ingredient in vinyl floor tiles in the 1950s. Using a scraper to remove the old flooring can release dangerous asbestos fibers. Herman should have installed the new tile over it. Scraping popcorn ceiling containing asbestos can be hazardous without proper masks and ventilation. Popcorn Ceiling Removal Janine was tired of the popcorn texture on the ceilings in her home, so she decided to scrape it off and repaint with a smooth finish. After putting on eye protection and a dust mask, she grabbed her ladder and got to work. After lots of scraping, a little sanding and some careful painting, she was finally done. Many textured ceiling finishes, including popcorn ceilings, have concealed asbestos. Scraping off the popcorn finish released microscopic asbestos fibers that easily passed through Janine’s dust mask. She should have hired a professional trained in safely removing asbestos hazards. Although it is the safest option, hiring asbestos abatement professionals can be expensive. However, before removing the entire popcorn surface, homeowners can scrape off a sample and perform home testing with a store-bought kit. Removing even a small piece for testing still requires protection, such as eye protection and an N95 respirator. Asbestos insulation around pipes is not uncommon, and cutting the insulation could disperse asbestos fibers. Cutting Insulation on Pipes When fixing up the basement of his late-1800s Victorian home, Brent noticed the insulation around some of the hot water pipes was starting to deteriorate. Not wanting to lose any heat efficiency, he cut the old insulation with a utility knife and replaced it with new fiberglass insulation. Brent should have known that many older plumbing systems are wrapped in asbestos insulation. The insulation may have already posed an exposure risk before he started the project, but cutting the damaged material released even more fibers into the air. Brent should have hired an asbestos professional to seal the asbestos insulation.