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Asbestos is a group of six natural minerals. The fibrous substance was once called a “miracle mineral” for its many desirable properties: strength, flexibility, fire resistance and heat insulation. Since the late 1800s, American industries have used asbestos for numerous manufacturing applications. Insulation, vehicle components and building materials are the most notable asbestos products.
The public has grown more aware of asbestos dangers in recent years, as more people struggle with the uncommon but deadly cancer known as mesothelioma. Asbestos exposure causes other problems too: pleurisy, asbestosis, lung cancer and other respiratory diseases.
Military veterans are a high risk group for developing asbestos-related illness. Factory and construction workers, demolition crews and auto mechanics are also more at risk. Homeowners and residential contractors can also develop problems if they become exposed to asbestos. People who live and work in older homes are the most susceptible.
Asbestos Hazards in the Home
The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) reports ten potential asbestos hazards that may be found in older homes. Houses built after 1923 may have used attic and wall insulation made from vermiculite ore. Mined in Libby, Montana, vermiculate was contaminated with asbestos, which occurred naturally in the mines.
Houses constructed between 1930 and 1950 likely used asbestos insulation. Some siding and roofing shingles also contained the substance. Textured paints and joint compounds used asbestos until the federal government banned its use in 1977.
In some homes, asbestos can be found in sheet vinyl, vinyl tiles and adhesives. Walls and floors around wood-burning stoves were often protected with asbestos paper, millboard or cement. Asbestos material coated or covered hot water and steam pipes, and it served as insulation for furnaces and door gaskets.
Older appliances such as stoves and ovens may contain asbestos compounds. The material was also used for the artificial ashes and embers used in gas fireplaces.
Preventing Asbestos Exposure at Home
Homeowners may discover asbestos materials when they undertake a project to renovate, remodel or refurbish their home. The EPA encourages them not to panic. If the material is in good condition, it is best to leave asbestos alone. Generally, it will not release harmful fibers into the air or cause serious health risks.
However, if homeowners discover deterioration, tears, abrasions or water damage, they should contact a health, environmental or asbestos official to learn about proper handling and disposal. Disturbed asbestos is the kind that poses health dangers, and any removal should be done by a qualified professional.
Unless a construction material is labeled, it is impossible to know whether it contains asbestos without a professional analysis. Only professionals should take samples, since they know what to look for and are trained to eliminate the health risks.
Asbestos repair and removal should only occur with damaged or disturbed asbestos products. Repair involves encapsulation or sealing to treat the material, and enclosure or covering to prevent the release of asbestos particles. Repair is less expensive than removal, but it may make removal more difficult if required at a later date.
Homeowners should use extra care when handling asbestos to prevent damage to themselves and others. Asbestos materials are best handled by certified professionals that are licensed by the federal government. To guard against misleading claims by asbestos contractors, homeowners must educate themselves about services, procedures and precautions.
Finally, a Reader sent me this link, which you might find very valuable in avoiding toxic exposure to asbestos:
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