What If I Find Asbestos in My Home?

If you find asbestos in your home, should you take action? Should you hire an asbestos professional?

If you suspect your home might contain asbestos material, the first thing to understand is that you don't always need to take action. While the link between asbestos exposure and serious health problems like mesothelioma is long-established, asbestos materials don't usually pose a risk unless the fibers are disturbed and made airborne.

If there is a chance that the asbestos material will be disturbed, or if you just want peace of mind, you have options, including fixing or removing the problem. We'll discuss those options in this article, and we'll explain what to keep in mind when hiring an asbestos professional.

Fixing an Asbestos Problem

Fixing an asbestos problem usually means either covering or sealing the asbestos material.

Use of a sealant can either bind the asbestos fibers together or coat them with a material that will prevent their release. Insulation (around pipes or heating units) can often be repaired this way.

Covering means enclosing the asbestos material to prevent any fibers from being released. One example of covering/enclosing is wrapping asbestos-insulated piping with a protective jacket.

Keep in mind that while repair is typically cheaper than removal, repair can also make any future removal more difficult (and also more costly). And make sure any repair work is done by a professional, since improper handling of asbestos can create a new health hazard where none may have existed. More on hiring an asbestos professional a little later on.

Removing an Asbestos Problem

Since it's usually the most expensive solution, and because it typically presents the biggest risk of actually causing the release of asbestos fibers, removal should probably be your last option, unless:

  • removal is required under your local or state laws
  • you're making major changes to your home that could result in the disturbance of asbestos material, or
  • the asbestos material is too damaged to be safely repaired.

Do's and Don'ts for Homeowners

  • Do keep use/activity to a minimum in areas of your house where potentially harmful asbestos material may be present.
  • Do avoid contacting, disturbing, or damaging asbestos material.
  • Do have any repair or removal work done by a qualified asbestos professional.
  • Don't vacuum or otherwise try to clean debris or dust that may contain asbestos.
  • Don't drill holes in, or use a saw, sander, or other tool on, asbestos materials.
  • Don't track asbestos material into or through your home, or allow others to do so.

Should You Hire an Asbestos Professional?

If you're thinking about hiring a professional to help with your potential asbestos problem, the kind of expert you'll need depends on the type of material you're dealing with, and the details around what needs to be done.

An asbestos professional can:

  • make a thorough inspection of your home
  • sample and assess suspected asbestos material, and
  • advise on your options for correction.

It's usually a good idea to use two different professionals (or two different firms), one to assess the need for corrective action in connection with the asbestos material, and the other to actually perform the work of fixing or removing the problem. That way you can steer clear of any potential conflict of interest.

When you're choosing an asbestos professional, check each candidate's credentials very carefully, and ask each to provide documentary proof of their federal or state-approved training. You might also want to ask for references from previous clients, and follow up with those customers. Try to get a cost estimate from more than one candidate, and make sure that any assessment will include both a visual inspection and lab analysis of suspected asbestos materials. Finally, before any work is done, ask for a written contract that includes details of the work plan.

A good starting place might be your local health department, or the regional office of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. These agencies may be able to point you to licensed asbestos professionals in your area.

Sources: U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC), U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), American Lung Association.

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