Asbestos was once considered a “wonder material” in the world of building. Today, it’s a hidden danger for many homes and commercial buildings.
Asbestos is the commercial name used for a group of naturally-occurring, fibrous silicate minerals. It’s easy to mine and found all over the world. The most valuable property of asbestos is its natural resistance to heat and fire. This is why it became such a popular building material. Unfortunately, this “wonder material” has a huge downside. Exposure to asbestos fibers is dangerous.
Manufacturers have used asbestos in insulation, wallboard, acoustic and popcorn ceilings, vinyl composition tile flooring, black mastic adhesive, pipe and wire insulation, shingles and more. Unless your home is a newer build, it likely contains some building material made with what is asbestos, unfortunately.
Upon discovering the amazing fire-resistant properties of asbestos, humans have used it since ancient times to insulate cooking utensils and pottery. It was particularly prized in ancient Greece and Rome for lantern wicks and oven insulation.
In the middle ages, Emperor Charlemagne was known to throw a tablecloth woven with asbestos into the fireplace, and then retrieve it unscathed as a parlor trick to impress his dinner guests.
Asbestos was re-discovered by Edwardian engineers in the 19th century, and by the 1950s, asbestos was commonly used in building insulation to prevent fires.
Asbestos-related health issues can take decades to appear, so it wasn’t until more than a century later that the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) began issuing regulations about the use of asbestos. The first of which, in 1973, banned spray-applied surfacing asbestos-containing material that was used for fireproofing and insulation purposes.
Subsequent regulations continued to limit the use of asbestos until April of 2019 when the EPA issued a final rule prohibiting any previously banned asbestos-containing products from ever returning to the market.
Most homes, especially older ones built before 1981, have some asbestos in them. When asbestos material is contained, and not airborne, it poses little or no health threat. Problems occur when asbestos particles become airborne and we breathe them into our lungs.
Asbestos becomes airborne when the asbestos-containing materials are disturbed or improperly handled during repairs, renovation, or removal. Because the fibers are microscopic and practically invisible, you may not realize that an exposure occurred.
If your home is older than 1981, you must have it tested for asbestos before starting any repair or remodel, including before fire restoration or storm damage repair.
To test for asbestos, we carefully collect samples and send them to a certified lab for testing. To avoid release of these dangerous fibers, only qualified and properly equipped technicians should perform the materials collection. Our technicians are trained to safely gather and handle these samples.
Asbestos isn’t actually a poison, although it would damage your stomach and intestines if you ate it. Rather, asbestos is dangerous because of the damage it does to our lungs if we breathe it in.
Most symptoms of asbestos exposure don’t show until 10 to 40 years after exposure. It takes time for the mineral fibers to damage and scar the lungs enough to impede breathing.
According to health professionals, symptoms of asbestosis include shortness of breath, persistent dry cough, pain or tightness in your chest, and a crackling sound in your lungs when you breathe.
If you suspect asbestos on your clothes, the first thing to remember is NOT to brush it off. This releases the dangerous fibers into the air where they are inhaled.
Wet the material down to limit the fibers’ movement, put on gloves and carefully remove the clothing. Secure the clothing in a plastic bag to contain the asbestos fibers.