Asbestos

What is Asbestos?
Asbestos is a mineral fiber that was commonly used in older buildings. Asbestos was used in certain household products because of it's insulation, strengthening and fire resistant properties. Because of these qualities, asbestos was used in a wide range of industries, including building products.  There are several specific kinds of asbestos, and they can only be positively identified under a microscope. Chrysotile is the most common type of asbestos in North America. It is a whitish gray asbestos widely used in the US and Canada.
Health Effects of Asbestos
The inhalation in of asbestos fibers is not healthy for anyone. Extensive studies have been conducted on people exposed to asbestos fibers, and many have been documented severe health problems. These health problems include lung cancer, cancer of the lining of the chest and the abdominal cavity, and asbestosis, a condition in which the lungs become scarred with a fibrous tissue. Symptoms often do not appear until years after the initial exposure. It usually, however, takes years of exposure to contract these diseases. Most people who come into contact with small amounts of asbestos for very limited periods of time are usually not in danger.

Where is Asbestos Found?
Asbestos was used in many products up until the 1970's. Most newer products do not contain asbestos, but if they do, they are required to be labeled as such. Household products that may have contained asbestos in the past include boilers, pipes, and furnace ducts. These items may have been insulated with material containing asbestos or fastened in place with asbestos containing tape. Some older types of floor tiles and floor tile adhesives used in tile installation may contain asbestos. Generally, these materials are not dangerous unless the tiles are sanded or the adhesive backing is scraped during removal. Some door gaskets in wood or coal stoves or furnaces may contain asbestos, which may become worn during use and release fibers into the air. Older decorative materials or materials used for soundproofing may also contain asbestos. If these materials are loose and crumbly, or if they are sanded or scraped they may release fibers into the air. Some textured paints  as well as substances used for patching and sealing joints, might contain asbestos as well. Again, any sanding or scraping action to these surfaces would release asbestos into the air. Lastly, some houses were built with asbestos containing material in the roofing, shingles and siding. While not entirely common, it is something to be aware of in older homes. Remember, products made before the 1970's are those most likely to contain asbestos. Today's newer materials do not usually contain asbestos, and if they do they are labeled as such.

Identifying Asbestos Containing Materials
It is impossible to tell if material contains asbestos just by looking. If you suspect asbestos contamination, it is advisable to have it tested by a qualified professional. If sampling is done incorrectly, the fibers may be released into the air and spread, creating a more harmful situation

What if I Have Existing Asbestos?
As a rule of thumb with asbestos, if the asbestos containing material is in good shape and in an area where it will not be disturbed, it is best to leave it. If it is decided that the asbestos containing material needs repair, there are two basic kinds of repair: sealing- where the asbestos containing materials are coated with a compound that seals the fiber in and covering- where the material containing asbestos is covered so it cannot be disturbed. If sealing is decided as the proper course of action, it is recommended that it be done by a professional.. Complete removal of materials containing asbestos is usually considered the last option because of the cost and the potential for health hazards.  Consulting with a professional removal service is highly recommended