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Indoor Air: Special Concerns in Older Homes: Asbestos - Additional Information

This information will help you gain a better understanding of questions homeowners may have about asbestos in older homes. The sections below provide more information on this topic.

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What is asbestos and what are the health effects of asbestos exposure?

  • Asbestos is a naturally occurring mineral fiber that can be positively identified with a special type of microscope.
  • Several types of asbestos fibers exist. The most common building material is chrysolite.
  • Breathing asbestos fibers at high levels over an increased period of time can increase the risk of:
    • Lung cancer.
    • Mesothelioma, a rare cancer of the thin membranes lining the lungs, chest, and abdominal cavity.
    • Asbestosis, a non-cancerous lung disease related to diffuse fibrous scarring of the lungs.
  • The symptoms of these diseases may not appear for 20 to 30 years after the first exposure to asbestos. However, some medical journals have published reports linking some mesotheliomas to short exposure periods (i.e., months).
  • Most people with asbestos-related diseases were exposed to elevated concentrations on the job. Some developed disease from exposure to clothing and equipment brought home from job sites.
  • The risk of lung cancer and mesothelioma increases with the number of fibers inhaled.
  • Cigarette smoking significantly increases the risk of lung cancer for people exposed to asbestos.

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Where is asbestos found?

  • Asbestos is most commonly found in homes that were constructed before the 1970s.
  • In older homes, asbestos may be found in:
    • Roofing and siding shingles made of asbestos cement.
    • Old insulation.
    • Texture and wall paint and patching compounds used on walls and ceiling joints.
    • Artificial ashes and embers used in gas-fired fireplaces.
    • Older products such as stove-top pads.
    • Paper, millboard, or cement sheets used to protect walls and floors around wood-burning stoves.
    • Vinyl floor tiles and the backing on vinyl sheet flooring and adhesives.
    • Insulation for hot water and steam pipes.
    • Insulation on oil and coal furnaces and door gaskets.
    • Vermiculite attic insulation.

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Asbestos Remediation

Remediating an asbestos problem involves the following steps:

  • Determining the presence of asbestos.
  • Repairing or removing asbestos.

Please note that EPA does not endorse the testing for, repair of, or removal of asbestos by a homeowner. Instead, the homeowner should contact an asbestos remediation professional.

Determining the Presence of Asbestos

  • For homeowners:
    • Do not panic.
    • Conduct a visual inspection only. Note that asbestos usually cannot be identified with a visual inspection unless it is labeled.
    • If the suspect material is in good condition, it is best to leave it alone.
    • If the suspect material appears damaged, contact an asbestos remediation professional to test for asbestos.
    • Do not take samples yourself. If you think a building material may contain asbestos, have an asbestos professional sample and test the material for you.
  • Asbestos remediation professionals will:
    • Sample and analyze any suspect materials (slightly or severely damaged materials).
    • Recommend asbestos repair or removal depending upon the severity of the damage.

Asbestos Repair or Removal

  • Asbestos-containing material slightly damaged by water, rips, or abrasions may release asbestos fibers.
  • Homeowners should:
    • Hire a professional with special training in asbestos repair or removal.
    • Keep activity to a minimum in areas with damaged asbestos.
    • Take every precaution to further avoid damaging the asbestos.
    • Not dust, sweep, or vacuum debris that may contain asbestos. This debris may be tracked to other areas. If necessary, clean with a damp mop if the area is small. If the area is large, contact an asbestos remediation professional.
    • Not saw, sand, scrape, or drill holes in asbestos material.
    • Not use power strippers with abrasive pads or brushes to strip wax from floors containing asbestos.
    • Not try to level or sand an asbestos floor or its backing. Install new flooring over the old when possible.
  • Note that removal is the most expensive method, and unless required by state or local regulations, should be the last option considered in most situations.

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