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What is Asbestos?

Asbestos is a mineral fiber that has been used commonly in a variety of building construction materials for insulation and as a fire-retardant. EPA and CPSC have banned several asbestos products. Manufacturers have also voluntarily limited uses of asbestos. Today, asbestos is most commonly found in older homes, in pipe and furnace insulation materials, asbestos shingles, millboard, textured paints and other coating materials, and floor tiles.

How Can Asbestos Affect My Health?

From studies of people who were exposed to asbestos in factories and shipyards, we know that breathing high levels of asbestos fibers can lead to an increased risk of lung cancer and asbestosis, in which the lungs become scarred with fibrous tissue.

The risk of lung cancer and mesothelioma increases with the number of fibers inhaled. The risk of lung cancer from inhaling asbestos fibers is also greater if you smoke. People who get asbestosis have usually been exposed to high levels of asbestos for a long time. The symptoms of these diseases do not usually appear until about 20 to 30 years after the first exposure to asbestos.
Most people exposed to small amounts of asbestos, as we all are in our daily lives, do not develop these health problems. However, if disturbed, asbestos material may release asbestos fibers, which can be inhaled into the lungs. The fibers can remain there for a long time, increasing the risk of disease. Asbestos material that would crumble easily if handled, or that has been sawed, scraped, or sanded into a powder, is more likely to create a health hazard.

Where Asbestos Hazards May Be Found In The Home:

You can't tell whether a material contains asbestos simply by looking at it, unless it is labeled. If in doubt, treat the material as if it contains asbestos and have it professionally sampled by Environmental Testing Associates.

Common products that might contain asbestos, and conditions which may release fibers, include, but are not limited to:

• Some roofing and siding shingles are made of asbestos cement.
• Houses built between 1930 and 1950 may have asbestos as insulation.
• Asbestos may be present in textured paint and in patching compounds used on wall and ceiling joints. Their use was banned in 1977.
• Artificial ashes and embers sold for use in gas-fired fireplaces may contain asbestos.
• Older products such as stove-top pads may have some asbestos compounds.
• Walls and floors around woodburning stoves may be protected with asbestos paper, millboard, or cement sheets.
• Asbestos is found in some vinyl floor tiles and the backing on vinyl sheet flooring and adhesives.
• Hot water and steam pipes in older houses may be coated with an asbestos material or covered with an asbestos blanket or tape.
• Oil and coal furnaces and door gaskets may have asbestos insulation.

What Should Be Done About Asbestos In The Home?

According to the EPA, usually it is best to leave asbestos material that is in good condition alone. Do not cut, rip, or sand asbestos-containing materials. Elevated concentrations of airborne asbestos can occur after asbestos-containing materials are disturbed by cutting, sanding or other remodeling activities. Improper attempts to remove these materials can release asbestos fibers into the air in homes, increasing asbestos levels and endangering people living in those homes.

The EPA further advises, "Do have removal and major repair done by people trained and qualified in handling asbestos. It is highly recommended that sampling and minor repair also be done by asbestos professionals."

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