How to Identify Asbestos

How to Identify Asbestos

Suspect many common building materials installed in your home prior to 1980

By Stevie Donald

Close-up view of Asbestos
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Asbestos is a naturally occurring mineral that is used in building materials, auto parts and some industrial applications. Construction uses included roofing shingles, vinyl floors, insulation and ceiling tiles. It's also used in automobile brake pads and gaskets, irons and ironing boards, hairdryers and other items that have to be heat resistant. You can't identify asbestos by looking materials manufactured with it, but lab tests will confirm its presence. Assume that some materials, like vinyl flooring tiles from the 1950s, contain asbestos. It's safe as long as it's in good condition or is encapsulated. Asbestos fibers into the air increases the risk for mesothelioma and other cancers and lung diseases.

  • What You Need to Know
  • You'll need the ability to recognize where asbestos my be in your environment and the knowledge to determine which type is dangerous and which type poses no threat to your health.

Step 1:

Assume that some common building materials installed in your home prior to 1980 contain asbestos. These include any insulating material, vinyl flooring, ceiling tiles, some composite exterior siding and roofing shingles.

Step 2:

Suspect exterior siding shingles if they are hard and hold paint well. This type of shingle was used on homes prior to 1970 and it was an excellent base for paint. These asbestos shingles may crack or break if struck with a hard object, but they pose no risk to your health as long as they are in good condition.

Step 3:

Take care when doing any demolition that could release asbestos fibers. Materials containing asbestos are safe as long as they are in good condition and not deteriorating or disturbed. Avoid disturbing asbestos-containing materials unless absolutely necessary.

Step 4:

Seal the area completely, wear HEPA filter masks and use all possible precautions if doing work that might release asbestos. This only concerns asbestos fibers, considered "friable," that were originally used to insulate hot water pipes and duct work. This is the dangerous form of asbestos and should only be removed by a professional. When this type of asbestos, which may look like a dusty, feathery coating on pipes and ducts, releases into the air, it can enter the lungs and do irreparable damage.

Step 5:

Contact a laboratory that will test suspect samples of asbestos-containing material. The only sure way to identify asbestos is by laboratory testing using polarized light microscopy. Follow their instructions for safely removing and bringing in a sample.

Step 6:

Find a qualified asbestos remediator to identify and handle asbestos removal in your home. She can advise you on the best ways to identify, remove or contain asbestos in your home.

Step 7:

Have an automotive repair shop change the brakes, gaskets and clutch in your older car so they can properly dispose of potentially asbestos-containing components. A knowledgeable mechanic will be able to tell you which components may contain asbestos.

  • Tips & Warnings
  • Asbestos is safe as long as it's in good condition or encapsulated. Anything that releases asbestos fibers into the air increases the risk for mesothelioma and other cancers and lung diseases.
  • The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) has ruled that certain building materials used prior to 1981 should be assumed to contain asbestos.
  • Asbestos must be "friable" in order to present a risk to human beings.

About the Author

Stevie Donald is a regular contributor to DexKnows. She has been a painting contractor since 1979.

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