Avoiding Asbestos Exposure In Older Homes

Once prized in manufacturing for its durability and heat resistance, asbestos has now been classified as a carcinogen by both the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the World Health Organization. The use of asbestos in new construction in the U.S. is strictly regulated, but becuse it can be found in many older homes,schools and public buildings constructed prior to those regulations, families may still be at risk.

Unprotected exposure to even a small amount of asbestos can lead to serious lung irritation lung cancer, and even the deadly cancer of organ linings called mesothelioma.

Asbestos Inside Houses

Asbestos restrictions were put in place in the 1970’s, as disturbing reports about the mineral’s danger to human health began to surface. Unfortunately, builders had already been using the material for more than 30 years in insulation, floor tiles, paint, shingles and more. When these materials dissentigrate with age or are disturbed, they can release toxic asbestos dust.

The Consumer Product Safety Commission warns owners of older homes that asbestos may be found in:

  • The attic – vermiculite insulation of the brand name Zonolite is most likely to contain asbestos fibers.
  • The kitchen – older floor tiles may be made of asbestos, as was the backing on vinyl sheet flooring and the adhesives used to install it
  • The living room – wood burning stoves and fireplaces often contains asbestos linings or artificial ‘logs’ or embers made from asbestos
  • The basement – steam pipes, boilers and furnace ducts were often insulated with asbestos or wrapped with asbestos paper tape
  • The walls – patching and joint compounds for walls and ceilings and well as certain textured or decorative paints and soundproofing materials may contain asbestos

Exposure to Asbestos Dust is Dangerous

Acccording to the Consumer Product Safety Commission, asbestos can become a health threat when the little fibers break down and become airborne. When this happens, these tiny bits of rock (asbestos is a mineral, essentially a rock) can become lodged deep in the lungs of anyone who inhales the dust, putting them at risk for lung damage or cancer.

The National Cancer Institute reports that the rare cancer mesothelioma, that claimed the life of football star and actor Merlin Olsen earlier this year, has been directly linked to asbestos exposure.

How to Avoid Asbestos

Because it is not possible to identify asbestos simply by looking at it, homeowners who suspect they have asbestos products in their home – especially if those products are not in good condition or if a home renovation is planned – may want to have it identified by a professional.

If asbestos is identified, there are options for protection against it, without removing it. The EPA says the asbestos containing material may be enclosed or treated with sealant to prevent the release of fibers. Because of the expense and risk involved, removal or ‘abatement’ of asbestos is usually the last option.

Leave Asbestos in Place to Stay Safe

safe asbestos handling

The EPA warns homeowners to check asbestos-containing products regularly for signs of wear and to keep activity to a minimum in areas of the house where asbestos is present, such as the attic or basement. Walls or floors that may be made of asbestos should not be scraped, sawed, sanded, drilled or cleaned with abrasive material.

Finally, if asbestos does have to be removed from the home, homeowners should never attempt to do it themselves but should hire a contractor with special training in safe asbestos handling.