Asbestos has been used for centuries for a wide variety of industrial uses. It has been used in over 3,000 commercially used products. Its lure was derived from its many qualities including fire resistance, insulating abilities as well as its high tensile strength. After realizing the properties asbestos possesses, it’s no wonder it is so prevalent. Unfortunately, now we know that asbestos is as harmful as it is useful. As a building or homeowner, it is important to know if and where asbestos is in your building.
Because asbestos was partially banned in phases starting in the late 1970s, that can be a good clue to indicate if there is ACM within a building. Was it built or renovated before 1980? If so, it is safe to assume it contains asbestos.
Besides having a professional inspection, there are a couple of tools that can be utilized in learning about the presence of asbestos. First, investigate different phases of construction, additions, and history of renovations. Public schools and buildings more likely will have an inventory of asbestos and its condition. If there is no documentation, the only way to know if asbestos is present for sure is to hire a professional to do a bulk sampling of suspect material. The sampling should tell whether or not asbestos is present as well as what type of asbestos it is.
The EPA estimates that over 107,000 schools and 750,000 public and commercial buildings contain asbestos nationwide.
Asbestos can be found in a plethora of places, these categories should give a general overview of where to look:
Due to effective insulating and fire resistance properties, look around heating system insulation. ACM was used in hot water pipes, steam pipes, and furnace ducts to name a few. Resilient floor tiles, some mastics and adhesives, and vinyl floor tiles usually contain asbestos. For this reason, it is important not to sand, scrape, or tear up flooring until the certainty of asbestos is known. Besides heating system insulation, asbestos was often used in millboard and cement sheets to insulate around wood-burning stoves and fireplaces, so before replacing any of these, have them tested for asbestos. The last big place to find asbestos is in soundproofing and decorative plasters. Acoustical or popcorn and decorative paints often contain asbestos.
If the material is damaged by water or can easily crumble with hand pressure it may release asbestos. In that case, it needs to be addressed. Many times in this situation it is easier and cheaper to simply encapsulate the asbestos as opposed to having it removed. Encapsulate means painting with a special coating used for this purpose. When looking for asbestos in a private home or a public building the most important thing to remember is that the only way to be 100% sure the material contains asbestos is to have it tested by a professional.
Locating asbestos in a building is only the first step. The next step is to determine the condition of the material. If the asbestos is damaged in any way it will release asbestos dust into the air which is harmful upon inhalation.
So, to ensure the safety of occupants the material should be removed, once again this needs to be handled by a licensed abatement specialist. If the asbestos is in good condition, the EPA recommends that it not be disrupted. This is because the material itself is only harmful if it is disturbed. If the safest decision is to leave the asbestos intact, it needs to be documented. The location and the condition of the ACM must be documented and made available to any occupants, tenants, or employees. Finally, the asbestos needs to be regularly inspected to ensure the integrity of the asbestos has not changed. These are all common places and typical situations to find asbestos, but again, only an analysis of the material can guarantee its presence. After its identification, asbestos needs to be removed, encapsulated, or at least documented and monitored. If these steps are followed, there should be no cause for alarm and no harm done.