Many people wonder if it's possible to test for asbestos in the home, or if they can safely handle any of the substances they might find. Asbestos is a dangerous air pollutant, and unfortunately, it's still present in many homes around the world. This is because asbestos was used as fire-resistant insulation extensively prior to 1979 in home walls, floor tiling, and roofing material like shingles. Nowadays, while asbestos isn't fully banned everywhere, many of its applications are heavily regulated by laws like the Toxic Substances Control Act.
Asbestos may not always pose a health hazard if it is not damaged or disturbed. It does so only when it is friable. This means when the asbestos can be crushed by hand pressure, or when the surface isn't sealed to prevent particles from escaping.
When asbestos breaks down into microscopic dust fibers, it can remain suspended in the air for a long time. These fibers can then be easily ingested, inhaled and absorbed through the skin. Asbestos fiber is very durable, meaning it can stay in the body for many years. People who are exposed to asbestos are in danger of contracting many asbestos-related diseases, including lung cancer and mesothelioma.
If There's Asbestos in Your Home What Should You Do?
The general rule if you find asbestos is to call a professional (here's a helpful tool for that). In the meantime, leave undamaged asbestos-containing materials alone. Take every precaution to avoid damaging asbestos-containing material. Limit children's access to any materials that may contain asbestos.
Don't dust, sweep, or vacuum debris that may contain asbestos. Don't saw, sand, scrape, or drill holes in asbestos-containing materials. Don't use abrasive pads or brushes on power strippers to strip wax from asbestos flooring. Never use a power stripper on flooring that may contain asbestos.
Don't sand or try to level asbestos flooring or its backing. Don't track material that could contain asbestos through the house. If you cannot avoid walking through an area with asbestos, have it cleaned with a wet mop.
Safety Note: If you're planning to clean any surfaces which you suspect might contain asbestos, remember to use the appropriate protective gear. Such gear can be rented from hardware supply stores, though it's good to have around for other tasks, too. If someone exhibits initial signs of asbestos inhalation, like labored breathing or sudden bouts of coughing, immediately seek medical help.
How Do I Choose an Asbestos Professional?
There are three basic things to remember when choosing an asbestos professional.
First, to ensure that there is no conflict of interest, the professional you choose to come and assess your home for removal or repair should be different from the professional who does the actual removal and repair.
Second, always ask to see their documentation. Your asbestos professional must have certification which shows that they completed accredited training for asbestos handling.
Third, do your due diligence. Find out from your local pollution control board if the firm has had any safety violations or if there are no legal actions filed against them.
Home Asbestos Testing
Federal law doesn't require single-family homeowners to be trained or accredited in order to handle asbestos. If you live in a single-family home and need to test for asbestos, make sure your state, city, or county rules allow you to do so.
Using An Asbestos Testing Kit
You can buy an asbestos testing kit from your local home improvement depot, or purchase one online. Here's how to choose an asbestos testing kit. Make sure you follow any instructions that come with your do-it-yourself kit for the best results.
If you don't have an asbestos testing kit, you can collect a testing sample yourself by using the following information.
Step 1 - Identify Potential Asbestos Contamination
There are many sources of asbestos contamination besides the usual suspects like tiled surfaces and aged crawlspaces. Some commonly neglected areas that have a high probability of asbestos contamination include rooms with extensive ductwork, rooms containing a radiator, and heating systems, and areas with traditional wiring circuits.
Step 2 - Get Prepared for Misting
Prepare yourself with a face mask and plastic gloves. You shouldn’t vacuum or clean the suspected area before testing for asbestos. Ideally, homeowners should be asked to stay away from the designated area for at least two days before the testing. Always turn off the ventilation and heating or cooling appliances before collecting the sample. Such appliances have the tendency to suck away the dust particles.
Spread a new or washed plastic sheet on the floor. Then, fill a spraying or misting bottle with water.
Step 3 - Mist the Area
Spray the area repeatedly, ensuring that the mist is dispelled in every part of the room. The presence of moisture in the air ensures that the dust is no longer suspended and it begins to settle on the plastic sheet. Using the scissors, cut out a small section of the plastic sheet. This is your testing sample.
Step 4 - Place Sample in a Bag
Place this sample in a plastic bag and label it with your ID number and the date and time of collecting the sample.
Step 5 - Send the Sample
Finally, Send the sample to an EPA-accredited, asbestos-testing laboratory. You should steer clear of the area until you have your results. If the results come back positive, you can get a cost estimate for removal.