Once thought to be a “magic mineral,” we now know that asbestos is extremely harmful. While it’s no longer widely used, it was a key component in a number of construction products for decades. Let’s talk about what it is, why it’s dangerous, and how to make sure your home is free of it.
First, asbestos actually refers to six minerals that can be pulled into a fluffy, fibrous substance. It’s most dangerous when it becomes airborne, which it does easily when it’s in this fluffy form. The particles are microscopic and unscented, so you won’t know when you inhale or ingest them and they’re nearly impossible to get out of your body once they’ve made their way in. Asbestos has been proved to cause scarring, cell damage, and certain forms of cancer like mesothelioma.
For decades before the harmful effects of asbestos were made public, it was used in a wide variety of construction materials. You’ve probably heard of it being used in insulation, but it can also be found in cement, vinyl flooring, plaster, and much more.
How can you tell if your home has materials made with asbestos? If your house or apartment was built after 1980, chances are that it is asbestos-free. The newer the construction, the less likely it is that it was built with materials that contained asbestos.
If your home was built before 1980, it’s possible and even likely that asbestos may still be present. The exception is that if you, or previous owners, have renovated after 1980, those building materials probably didn’t contain asbestos.
You can’t tell if asbestos is present simply by looking around. If you suspect there is asbestos in your home, the only way to know for sure is to get it tested. The EPA has guidelines on how to collect a sample but if you’re uncomfortable doing so, you can hire an asbestos professional to gather it for you.
What should you do if your home tests positive for asbestos?
- Take note of which material contains asbestos. Is it brittle or crumbly? If so, it’s likely to become airborne and therefore dangerous. If it’s a solid or tightly bound material, it’s probably safe for the time being. If/when it starts to deteriorate, that is when it’s time to think about replacing it.
- It’s not always necessary to remove the material that contains asbestos. Many times it can be repaired or contained in a way that is safe.
- If you’re not comfortable having asbestos in your home at all, removal is the only permanent solution. You should never try to remove materials that contain asbestos on your own. Hire a professional who is certified in asbestos removal and be sure to have the air in your home tested afterward to ensure there are no lingering particles.
The thought of having asbestos in your home is scary but don’t panic. It is completely repairable. If you think materials in your home might contain asbestos, get them tested and repaired or replaced. In doing that, you’ll be taking steps to create the safest home possible for you and your family.