If you leave cable television on for long enough, you're sure to hear at least one attorney commercial promising compensation for asbestos exposure. Even with its nasty reputation, though, asbestos is not fully understood by many.
Since you've landed on this article, you're likely concerned already about a building that may contain asbestos materials. It's time to do something about it.
In this comprehensive guide, you'll learn everything you need to know about asbestos, the risks of exposure, and how to protect yourself with asbestos abatement services.
What is Asbestos?
If you believe you're dealing with asbestos, it's important to understand what you're up against. Asbestos is a type of building material that was very common in the 1900s. It is a naturally occurring material on every continent mined as a byproduct of mining other materials.
America was the lead producer of asbestos in 1973, processing about 804,000 tons. Even as a lead producer, America still actually consumed more asbestos than it produced. In a global frenzy, around 25 countries mined about 4.8 million metric tons of asbestos yearly in the 1970s.
This mass production came to an abrupt halt for America in the 1980s once overwhelming evidence proved its dangers.
It's true, asbestos is dangerous. Despite the risks, many developing countries around the world have not banned asbestos. Countries such as China and India continue to produce and consume asbestos products.
So what is asbestos, exactly?
Asbestos is a naturally occurring silicate material identified as needle-like fibers and is popular due to its fire retardancy. There are several different types of asbestos, each of which has its own distinct appearance and chemical properties.
You won't be able to identify asbestos with the naked eye, as the fibers are extremely tiny. Instead, education is imperative about the common location and materials of asbestos, and you should exercise caution.
If you feel at all that a building contains asbestos, it is important to not touch it or get too close. You should observe the materials from afar to see if there is any damage. If you do touch it, you should wear gloves.
Types of Asbestos
There are six different categories of asbestos. These six categories come under two different classifications. Despite having different properties and levels of commercial popularity, all types of asbestos are dangerous.
The two different classifications of asbestos are serpentine and amphibole. The only serpentine fiber is called white asbestos, scientifically named "chrysotile." The amphibole class is the larger class, having five different types of fibers:
Chrysotile asbestos fibers have proven to be less dangerous to humans than all of the amphibole class fibers, but they are still lethal. Chrysotile makes up 90-95% of the asbestos market.
Asbestos is not just one material but shows up in almost every kind of building material you can imagine. Because of its fire-resistant properties, it was a miracle material for stopping buildings from burning down. This great property meant that almost everything contained asbestos.
Knowing the different types of asbestos can help you better identify them in person. More often than not, however, you will be dealing with white asbestos.
White asbestos is often mixed with other materials to make up building materials. For example, asbestos is very commonly found in old concrete or mixed with asphalt. This means that any black adhesives or concrete structures and materials in a building should be suspected of containing asbestos.
Risks of Asbestos
The CDC confirmed by 2005 that over 18,000 American citizens had died as a result of long-term asbestos exposure. Sadly, even strict controls could not stop a continued trend of asbestos-related deaths. They predicted that by 2027 there would still be another 29,667 deaths.
Even today, 1.3 million Americans are still regularly exposed to asbestos at work. Long-term exposure has proven to lead to lung cancer, asbestosis, and mesothelioma. Health effects from asbestos exposure are due to breathing in the fibers of the asbestos materials or ingesting them.
Even if you feel fine now, the health effects can take 20 to 50 years after your exposure to appear. You could develop lung cancer over decades, most often in the form of mesothelioma, which is the cancer of the lining in your lungs.
Unfortunately, mesothelioma is often not detected until its late stages, where treatment is ineffective. Cancerous tumors will take over the lungs, causing difficulty in breathing, pain, and coughing. Doctors can attempt to treat the disease with surgery, radiation, and chemotherapy.
On the other hand, asbestosis symptoms include lung scarring, shortness of breath, clubbed fingers and toes, weight loss, and pain. This chronic lung disease also takes years to show symptoms after exposure.
Those most at risk of lung cancer, asbestosis, and mesothelioma include:
Aircraft and auto mechanics
As a professional in one of these areas, it is most likely that you've been educated about the dangers and methods of protection. However, it is still important that your doctors understand your heightened risk and check for signs regularly.
5 Signs You Should Check for Asbestos
Because asbestos is so dangerous, you must know when you should be checking for signs. If you own a building, or you're going to be working in or on a building, there are 5 major signs that you could be exposed to asbestos.
If you have been experiencing difficulty breathing or feeling chest pain, it is highly recommended that you visit a doctor as soon as possible. It's true, asbestos could be the cause. Your health comes first, though, and removing asbestos can come after you've sought treatment.
If you are experiencing health problems, it is even more imperative that you hire professionals rather than attempting to handle the problem yourself.
1. It's an Older Building
Now that you know the history of asbestos, you understand why it's very likely that you're exposed if you're dealing with an older building. While many countries have chosen to ban the continued production and consumption of asbestos materials, the already-installed materials remain as long as they aren't damaged or pose a high risk.
If the building in question is older than the 1980s, then it's most likely that many of the building materials contain asbestos. In general, you can safely enter, live, and work in a building that has asbestos materials as long as they are intact.
Unfortunately, older buildings are more likely to deteriorate, especially if not taken care of properly. Once the roof, siding, paint, and other exterior and interior materials start showing the need for repair or replacement, the danger of asbestos exposure increases.
If you are buying an older building, it is highly recommended that you identify asbestos materials and consider removal.
It's important to remember that damage to asbestos materials is what causes serious health risks, so even living in a building with intact asbestos materials poses a risk. For example, natural disasters or fires can release asbestos fibers into the air.
A famous example of this is 9/11 when the Twin Towers suffered a terrorist attack and many perished in the collapse and flames. The Twin Towers contained asbestos materials, and to this day, people are suffering from the serious health effects of breathing in the fibers. Survivors and first responders alike are now mentally and physically damaged by the event.
If you choose to continue using the building as is, make sure to keep a close eye on any suspected asbestos materials. If you have seen any signs of wear or damage, it's most likely time that you consider
2. There's Resilient Flooring
If you're in an older building and you notice the flooring is vinyl or rubber, it's possible that the flooring is made with asbestos. If it's not made of asbestos, it could have adhesives underneath that contain asbestos. Asbestos was a very popular material used for adhesives in homes, which means even regular floor tiling could be secured to the floor with asbestos.
Some signs that your flooring contains asbestos are the size, age, and appearance.
If you have old flooring tiles that are 9x9 inches, they are likely asbestos flooring. This size was the most common size of asbestos flooring in production. There were also two other sizes, 12-inch or 18-inch squares, that could contain asbestos.
Asbestos flooring tiles also generally contained asphalt. Over time, asphalt can break down and release oils, much like on a roadway. If your flooring tiles appear discolored or oily, this is an indicator that they are asphalt asbestos tiles.
If your floor is very old, it's likely starting to lift or break off. If you have areas where you can see underneath the tiling, check for black adhesive. Black mastic was a very common adhesive used to adhere asbestos flooring to the ground.
Whether or not the actual floor tiles contain asbestos, black mastic contains asphalt and asbestos. If you can see this adhesive, you are likely at risk of inhaling asbestos fibers.
Removing or altering flooring like this can release asbestos fibers into the air. Even wear and tear after years of use can start to release the fibers. Whether you were planning on replacing the floor or not, you should consider hiring a professional to assess the situation.
3. You Have a Cement Water Tank or Other Old Cement
Decades ago, asbestos cement was a popular material used in building materials and appliances. If you have old cement roofing, for example, it may be made with asbestos.
Cement sheets were also used in walls around heating elements and appliances, such as wood-burning stoves.
It is even more important to address asbestos concerns if you have a cement water tank. Ingesting asbestos is dangerous too, so having it in your water supply should be a concern. Asbestos cement water tanks could be leaching asbestos fibers into your water if they are old and in need of replacement.
In 2013, the city of Oakdale had to halt its efforts to renovate its 100-year old concrete water tower after they found that the inside lining of the water tank consisted of asbestos materials. To do this, local governments are still finding old facilities made of asbestos materials and going through removal efforts.
Removal of cement water tanks requires a professional if they contain asbestos. Removal of the tank could also release asbestos fibers, increasing your risks of breathing them in.
4. There's Old Insulation Around Pipes, Boilers, and More
Asbestos is a very common material found in old insulation materials. If the building has old walls, pipes, and heating elements, they likely contain asbestos.
If someone built this building between 1930-50, it's very likely the wall insulation contains asbestos. Asbestos blankets, tapes, and insular material could all be present around gaskets, furnaces, and pipes.
It's smart to think about different elements in your home that exist for thermal purposes. Old houses used asbestos as a fire retardant, so you'll likely find asbestos materials in those areas. Even the walls and floors around stoves, for example, could consist of asbestos materials.
Wall insulation that poses the most risk is batt-style insulation of asbestos materials. This type of insulation fits loosely within your walls and in your attic, and the fibers shed easily.
You might also have pellet-style insulation, which expands in hotter temperatures. This type of insulation is very popular in attics. Not all brands contain asbestos, but it's important to be sure.
The brand called Zonolite is the most known brand for being a health hazard. A mine in Montana in the 70s provided for an overwhelming majority of the insulation market. It contains a treatment very similar to asbestos and causes similar health symptoms.
Because that mine wasn't closed down until 1990, you'll have to be even more careful. Buildings that were insulated all the way up to 1990 could contain hazardous insulation. Beyond that, overstock could mean that the insulation continued to be bought off the shelves.
How Can I Tell?
If you have loose-fill insulation that is soft or puffy and is colored white or gray, you probably have either fiberglass, rock wool, or cellulose insulation. These insulations do not pose a threat to your health. Fiberglass insulation should be handled carefully, however, as it can be painful to handle and could cause cancer if breathed in.
Zonolite particles are accordion-shaped and either silver or gold-colored. It is a lightweight material that lays flat against the cavity rather than settling like fluff.
5. You're Planning a Renovation
Regardless of your level of concern about asbestos in a building, it's very important to be certain there's no asbestos before you begin a renovation. Remodeling a building can damage asbestos materials, releasing the fibers into the air and risking the health of everyone in the area.
All of the materials listed above are key danger areas when it comes to asbestos, but the dangerous material can be in everything. It was very common to use asbestos materials for siding, paint, roofing, floors, and even protective coatings for plumbing.
If you are considering buying an old building, it's very important to ask about known asbestos materials. You can also get the building inspected to identify any asbestos materials. If you are buying the building for renovation, it is required that you remove asbestos safely and replace the materials with asbestos-free materials.
You can ensure the safety of you, your employees, or your family and friends by hiring a professional service for asbestos abatement and removal.
What is Asbestos Abatement?
If a test proves you have asbestos materials in your building, you'll need to remove them properly to protect yourself from asbestos. Asbestos abatement is the process in which asbestos is either contained securely or removed entirely from the building.
In minor cases, it is possible to contain asbestos materials so that the fibers have no chance of releasing into the air. This process involves wrapping the materials tightly. If this is impossible, professionals should remove the asbestos materials from the property.
Hiring a professional is highly recommended as being near the asbestos while untrained and unprotected can be very dangerous.
Asbestos professionals are highly trained in:
Work area preparation
Proper handling of hazardous materials
Procedures for hazardous waste disposal
Because of this extensive training, asbestos removal professionals are equipped for the job and should be hired to handle these situations.
There are three types of asbestos abatement. They are called Class I, Class II, and Class III according to the type of asbestos materials.
Class I asbestos work is the process of removing asbestos that was being used for insulation. These materials include wall insulation and sheeting that is used around heating elements.
Class II asbestos work involves removing asbestos materials that were not being used for insulation. These materials include flooring, roofing, and siding.
Class III asbestos work is any repair and maintenance processes applied to asbestos materials that will likely be disturbed.
How to Get Asbestos Removed
The process of asbestos removal requires a lot of attention to detail. Asbestos abatement begins with an inspector who is trained in testing materials for asbestos. They will take samples and send them to a laboratory to determine if the material is truly asbestos.
Once the samples are confirmed, an asbestos abatement service will come to the building to begin removal.
First, they will prep the area:
Dress in protective clothing and gear
Turn off HVAC and electrical systems
Create a decontamination area that stops asbestos from leaving the work area
Cover surfaces not being treated to avoid further contamination
Post warning signs about asbestos
Use wet wiping technique of HEPA vacuums to contain asbestos
Seal any unremovable items with plastic sheets and tape
Prepare leak-tight containers for asbestos materials
Prepare proper vehicles for transportation of waste to special landfills
Once the area is properly contained and prepared, professionals will remove asbestos materials and transport them to special landfills that take hazardous waste.
Asbestos Abatement Cost
The cost of hiring hazardous waste removal companies varies greatly according to the amount of asbestos, what types of materials there are, and how difficult and dangerous it will be to remove them.
The costs will come in several rounds to cover the entire process of asbestos abatement.
The first charge will be for the initial inspection. Hiring a professional to take samples and test materials could range in the hundreds of dollars. A professional will determine what to charge you based on the size of the building and how many samples they need to take.
According to Asbestos.com, you could spend on average $400-600. If you need the results quickly, you can pay even more for an expedited process of testing. The sample analysis at the lab can cost about $25-75.
If you have a building that has tested positive for asbestos, you will have one of two options. A professional will consult with you about whether it is possible to contain the asbestos rather than remove it. This would be a more affordable option.
If you have a residential home that needs asbestos abatement throughout the property, you could end up spending about $20,000-30,000. If you have a commercial property, the removal could be much more expensive.
Some commercial asbestos removal projects have cost millions of dollars.
Call For Asbestos Abatement
Asbestos is a material you shouldn't take lightly. Even if you can safely reside in an asbestos-laden building, for now, future deterioration and damage can threaten your life. If you have any concerns, especially if you are buying and renovating an old building, you should call for an inspection and hire a service for asbestos abatement.
HCi is a comprehensive and experienced environmental and engineering hazmat team. For any hazardous waste, but especially asbestos, you can call for effective removal and disposal by our team. Contact us to set up your appointment now!