Is Asbestos Hiding In Your Home?

Most people now know that asbestos is hazardous. What may not be well known however, is that severe illness can develop even twenty years after exposure and despite the dangers, asbestos continues to be used in many products for our homes. According to the American Lung Association, there are more than 3,000 products in use today which contain asbestos. Most of these are products or component materials used for fire proofing, roofing, flooring, heat and acoustic insulation.

Asbestos refers to a group of naturally occurring silicate minerals with the ability to separate into fibers. Chrysotile is the most commonly used type in North America. Much of that is mined in Canada although large deposits are also found in California. When it's usefulness was first discovered, it seemed like a revolutionary material-cheap, durable, fire proof, and a great insulator. In most products, a binding agent is added to prevent the fibers from becoming airborne but the binder is not completely effective. In the mid-1970s the health effects became known and they are dire.

Numerous forms of cancer have been associated with asbestos including cancer of the lungs, stomach, colon, ovaries, and esophagus. Asbestosis and mesothelioma (cancer of the pleura, the lining between the ribs and the lungs) are two ailments directly linked to asbestos. Cancer seems to be a malfunction in the body's immune response to the microscopic fibers which penetrate deeply into the lungs and can work their way into other parts of the body. As the body tries to neutralize the foreign particles by coating them with special proteins, scarring, reduced lung capacity and cancer can result. Although it is possible to ingest asbestos, the typical point of entry is the lungs. The fibers are so tiny that they can be inhaled undetected without triggering the normal cough reflex. Because people do not have an immediate reaction they are often unaware that they are in danger.

Asbestos is still a silent menace in many homes and offices. Anyone planning home renovations or purchasing a home should know where the hidden dangers are and which new products contain asbestos.

Products and Materials Containing Asbestos:

  • shingles and siding
  • roofing felt
  • vinyl asbestos floor tiles
  • acoustic ceiling material
  • asbestos plaster
  • pipe and duct insulation
  • artificial fireplaces, logs and ash
  • patching and spackling compounds
  • aircell pads inside furnaces
  • pipe lagging and pipe elbow mud
  • ductwork insulation
  • floor tiles
  • electrical wires
  • textured paints
  • cements
  • furnaces and furnace door gaskets
  • pot holders and ironing board pads
  • hair dryers
  • toasters and other household appliances

Home renovations such as replacing old flooring or insulation can be particularly dangerous. There are no labels or warnings on preinstalled materials (or even many new products) to warn of the presence of asbestos. Great amounts of the harmful fibers can become airborne when the old material is ripped out. Use professional renovation companies or contact the Ministry of Environment for information on the proper protective gear. Standard paper nose and mouth masks are not sufficient barriers to asbestos. If you have concerns about a new product, contact the manufacturer. Although they may not be required to label it on their product, they should provide the information upon request.

If you are considering purchasing a home, a few precautions can ensure your family's safety. The seller is required to declare the presence of asbestos on the Property Disclosure Statement (PDS). A seller who knowingly omits that information on the PDS can be sued in civil court if the buyer later finds out that the information was intentionally withheld. If the PDS declares that asbestos is not present but you have doubts you can hire a building inspector. Many houses were inspected for asbestos in the 1970's and 1980's and had the hazard removed. If this was done there should be a Removal Certificate along with the information about the property.

Remember that asbestos can be removed safely and that "sick" but otherwise perfect house is not necessarily a write-off. Today's technology makes it possible to remove asbestos safely and return a home to glowing health once again.