Article for Spout Springs


Asbestos Risks in Older Homes


            If the home you live in was built before the 1980s, there is a good chance asbestos may be lurking somewhere in your residence.  Since asbestos use was so prevalent and widespread, it is important to know the basics about asbestos and where to find materials that may contain this toxic substance.  Knowing possible locations of asbestos-contaminated materials and how to handle them is essential in order to avoid exposure to asbestos.


What is Asbestos?


            Asbestos is a mineral that can be found on nearly every continent, and has been used for centuries for a variety of purposes.  The atomic structure of this mineral takes the form of long thin fibers that are easy to work with and very pliable.  Asbestosí extreme fire and heat resistance, its inability to conduct electricity, its reluctance to react with most chemicals, and its natural soundproofing quality make this material so useful in domestic and industrial products.




            By the late 1800s, asbestos was being used in a growing number of products.  Eventually, thousands upon thousands of products were eventually made with asbestos for both domestic and industrial use.  A few of the industries that are known hotspots for asbestos include power plants, chemical plants, and shipyards.  The construction industry also used asbestos in countless products that were applied in both commercial and residential properties.


Where to Find Asbestos Products


            If you own or live in an older house, there are some specific areas that should be checked for asbestos.  The first is the plumbing system, especially the hot water pipes.  If the pipes are wrapped in what looks like a thick white tape, it is most likely asbestos.  Asbestos-containing materials cannot simply be detected with the human eye.  The only way to be absolutely sure if a product contains asbestos is to hire a professional to perform an asbestos survey.  Hiring a profession will help prevent exposure to yourself and your family.


            The exterior of homes can also bear asbestos-containing materials.  Asbestos also adds strength to products, which made it perfect for roofing shingles and siding.  It is very likely that the roof on your house has been changed in the past 30 years, but if not, hire a professional to do this difficult job.  If you suspect the siding on your house is made of asbestos, take a walk around and make sure none of the siding is ripped, torn, or damaged in any other way.  If it is, hire a professional to replace this toxic material, as performing this risky task will likely expose you and your family to asbestos.




            Asbestos may have also been added to the cement blocks that make up the foundation of your home; sometimes the mortar as well.  If the blocks are not cracked or broken and the mortar is solid, there may be little risk.  Make sure the blocks are well painted and that the paint is not peeling.


Cement Wall


            Another interior location to check is the walls.  Wallboard was often made with asbestos in its manufacture.  If there is texture on the walls, it might contain asbestos, as the thread-like fibers made for a very decorative texture.  Even some of the adhesives and filler contained asbestos fibers in the mixture.


Plaster Celing       


There are just a couple of other places that you may find asbestos in an older home.  Floor and ceiling tiles were strengthened with asbestos.  And (slightly less common) there may be asbestos fibers in the countertops and the cabinet facings in the kitchen.


Asbestos Tile2


What Are the Risks?


            Asbestos is very a dangerous and toxic substance.  The fibers break off easily and float in the air like dust.  When people walk through the infected area, they inhale and swallow the fibers.  When this occurs, the fibers stay lodged in the body (which has difficulty in expelling asbestos).  Over time, the fibers damage surrounding cells and create scar tissue.  Once the scarring reaches a high enough level, the victim may begin to have problems catching their breath.  The official medical term for this asbestos related disease is asbestosis.


            Those who suffer from asbestosis can be treated, but they cannot be cured.  In a many cases, though, someone with asbestosis can lead a fairly normal lifeóif itís caught early enough.  However, some of the symptoms involve an increased risk of contracting lung cancer or an asbestos-related cancer called mesothelioma.  Asbestos fibers are a carcinogen that can cause tumors to form in the lining that covers and protects most of the vital organs in the chest, abdomen, and heart, called the mesothelium.  The most common form of this cancer is pleural mesothelioma, which affects the lining of the lungs.  Once mesothelioma has been diagnosed, victims have an average lifespan of 18 months.  Mesothelioma treatment includes curative and palliative measures, but this aggressive cancer is rarely cured.


How Do I Get Rid of It?


            Two answers apply to this question.  The first is, donít mess with asbestos if itís not necessary.  If the material is intact, the insulation all in one piece, the siding not chipped or cracked, and the walls free of damage, simply leaving it alone will likely keep the asbestos from being released into the air, where it becomes a hazard.  Itís also possible to cover the material with paint or some other substance that will help keep the asbestos fibers contained. 


            The second suggestion is to let a professional handle all asbestos material repairs and replacements.  In some states there are regulations put in place that allow only certified contractors to legally remove asbestos.  If the asbestos must be removed, the best bet is to contact a professional who has the knowledge and tools to do it safely.  This may save not only your life, but the lives of your family as well.