Identifying AsbestosWhen people hear the word “asbestos,” their first thought is often one of the dozens of personal injury ads they’ve seen on TV featuring a fast-talking voice actor and a bright, bold 1-800 number emblazoned on the screen. Yet despite its association with questionable advertising, asbestos remains a very real danger as nearly 15,000 people die every year from asbestos exposure in the U.S. The greatest risk for many homeowners occurs when remodeling or renovating an older home that was built before modern-day regulations were put in place. Fortunately, there are precautions you can take to help identify asbestos in your home and prevent it from becoming a major health risk.
What Is Asbestos?Asbestos is a set of minerals known for their resistance to heat, fire and electricity. Because of these properties, it was widely used in everything from building insulation to oven mitts throughout the 20th century. But by the 1970s, public knowledge of asbestos’ ability to cause cancer, especially a rare, aggressive form of the disease called mesothelioma, caused governments around the world to ban or extremely limit its use in both industrial and consumer products. It’s important to note that asbestos is only a health risk in a friable, or dust-like, form, allowing its microscopic fibers to be inhaled. In cases where undisturbed asbestos is found, the best course of action is usually to leave it instead of removing it to avoid contaminating the home with asbestos dust.
What Are the Signs of Asbestos?But how do you find and identify asbestos in your home in the first place? Part of what makes asbestos so difficult to detect is the fact that it was used in so many different materials, as Walsh explains: Asbestos can be found almost anywhere in the home. It was used in a variety of construction products, including cement, insulation, adhesives, siding, roofing tiles, textured paints, and vinyl flooring. Despite the difficulty, there are some red flags to look out for when working on your home, especially if it was built prior to the late 1970s, such as:
- Crumbling drywall
- Cracked siding
- Damaged shingles
- Discolored or cracked floor tiles
- Old corrugated cement roofing
- Brittle ceiling tiles or coatings
- Frayed building or piping insulation