Recent news articles on the Indiana fires that have taken place at huge commercial facilities remind us of the dangers present to the community when there are unknown particles flying through the air. Buildings constructed before 1980 were probably built with materials containing asbestos. Even without a fire, a home owner should be aware of the possible presence of asbestos. If you have a remodeling project planned, or if you notice some deterioration in the building materials of your home, what should you know about asbestos testing?
The mining and manufacturing of asbestos has significantly decreased since heavy governmental restrictions were implemented in the late 1970s. However, if your home or building was built between the 1930s and 1970s, there is a likelihood that asbestos is present in many of the manufactured building products that were used during construction. Some of the most common sources of asbestos products in the home or office include:
- Attic and wall insulation
- Vinyl floor tiles and sheeting, including the adhesive used for installation
- Roofing and siding shingles
- Textured paint and patch compounds for walls and ceilings
- Asbestos paper, millboard, or cement sheets on floors/walls near wood-burning stoves
- Insulative asbestos blanket or tape covering hot water or steam pipes
- Insulation and gaskets on doors of oil and coal furnaces
- Heat resistant fabrics
When asbestos containing materials (ACM) are disturbed or damaged, they become “friable.” This means that tiny fibers are released into the air, presenting significant health risks to building occupants and workers due to exposure or inhalation. Because of the serious and proven threat this presents to human health, there are federal, state, and/or local regulations that control the removal of ACM.
Here’s what you need to know about asbestos inspection and testing.
Identifying Asbestos Containing Materials
The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) recommends hiring a trained and accredited asbestos professional to perform inspections and take samples when necessary. Because the sampling process alone can release dangerous fibers into the air, taking samples yourself is highly discouraged. Generally speaking, if your home was built prior to the 1980s (or if you are simply proceeding with caution), you should hire a professional to perform an inspection if:
- You are considering a remodeling project, since this will disturb existing building materials
- You notice deteriorating building materials in your home, such as crumbling drywall or insulation
However, the EPA also recommends not disturbing existing building materials in your home (for sampling) if they are in good shape or will not be affected in a remodeling project. Remember, you can perform a visual inspection, but if there are any signs of damaged or failing materials, contact a professional.
Laboratory Testing for the Presence of Asbestos
If a professional suspects the presence of ACM, the comprehensive visual examination will be followed by careful collection of samples for analysis by an accredited laboratory. The sampling process itself will disturb the area so it should only be performed by a trained professional. If laboratory testing confirms the presence of asbestos, the inspector will provide a thorough written report describing the location of the asbestos, the extent of damage present, and recommendations for corrective or preventative measures.
After the completion of remedial work, you should have the inspector return to assure that the area is free from asbestos or that any remaining ACM are in good condition or “sealed.” In this case, the area should be inspected routinely to ensure it can be safely managed in place.
There are two types of accredited asbestos professionals:
- Inspectors – inspect homes and buildings, assess the conditions, take samples for testing, and recommend corrective measures. They can also return after the corrective process to ensure the process adhered to proper procedures (such as thorough cleanup) and monitor the air for any remaining airborne fibers.
- Contractors – professionals who can repair or remove ACM from a structure.
Training for asbestos professionals is required under the EPA Asbestos Model Accreditation Plan. The Plan requires the use of trained professionals when inspecting, designing, or conducting response plans at schools and public and commercial buildings. It also requires annual refresher training.
Although federal law does not require people who inspect, repair, or remove ACM from detached single-family homes to be trained, many states and localities do. You will want to hire a firm that is fully trained and experienced in asbestos location and removal, using certified technicians.
Helpful Information for Homeowners
If you suspect ACM are present in your home or while waiting for corrective work to begin, here are some “do’s and don’ts” recommended by the EPA:
- Leave undamaged ACM alone
- Keep activity to a minimum in areas containing known or suspected ACM
- Take every precaution to avoid disturbing ACM
- Have removal and repair performed by trained, qualified professionals
- Dust, sweep, or vacuum debris that may contain ACM
- Saw, sand, scrape, or drill holes in ACM
- Use abrasive pads or power strippers on flooring containing asbestos
- Attempt to sand, level, or repair flooring containing asbestos
- Track material that could contain asbestos throughout the home
There are current renewed efforts to seek a total ban on asbestos use. While this is good news for the future, the heavy use of asbestos during the last century means that we must continue to deal with its presence now. Therefore, it is important to engage a team of certified professionals as needed to handle asbestos inspections and corrective procedures. They are familiar with federal, state, and local laws and guidelines about identifying, testing for, handling, and removing asbestos. By hiring a qualified professional, you can be confident that you are protecting yourself and others against potential physical harm.