Prepared By the American
Lung Association, (The Christmas Seal People), The Consumer
Product Safety Commission (CPSC), and The Environmental
This guidance will help you understand
asbestos: what it is, its health effects, where it is in
your home, and what to do about it.
Even if asbestos is in your home, this is usually NOT
a serious problem. The mere presence of asbestos in a home
or a building is not hazardous. The danger is that asbestos
materials may become damaged over time. Damaged asbestos
may release asbestos fibers and become a health hazard.
THE BEST THING TO DO WITH ASBESTOS
MATERIAL IN GOOD CONDITION IS TO LEAVE IT ALONE!
Disturbing it may create a health hazard where
none existed before. Read this booklet before you have any
asbestos material inspected, removed, or repaired.
Where Asbestos Hazards
May Be Found In The Home
- Some roofing and siding
shingles are made of asbestos cement.
- Houses built between 1930 and 1950 may
have asbestos as insulation.
- Asbestos may be present in textured
paint and in patching compounds used on wall and ceiling
joints. Their use was banned in 1977.
- Artificial ashes and embers sold for
use in gas-fired fireplaces may contain asbestos.
- Older products such as stove-top pads
may have some asbestos compounds.
- Walls and floors around woodburning
stoves may be protected with asbestos paper, millboard,
or cement sheets.
- Asbestos is found in some vinyl floor
tiles and the backing on vinyl sheet flooring and adhesives.
- Hot water and steam pipes in older houses
may be coated with an asbestos material or covered with
an asbestos blanket or tape.
Oil and coal furnaces and door gaskets may
have asbestos insulation.
This document may be reproduced without
change, in whole or in part, without permission, except
for use as advertising material or product endorsement.
Any such reproduction should credit the American Lung Association,
the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission, and the U.S.
Environmental Protection Agency. The use of all or any part
of this document in a deceptive or inaccurate manner or
for purposes of endorsing a particular product may be subject
to appropriate legal action.
Statement by the
American Lung Association:
The Statements in this brochure are based
in part upon the results of a workshop concerning asbestos
in the home which was sponsored by the U.S. Consumer Product
Safety Commission and the American Lung Association (ALA).
The sponsors believe that this brochure provides an accurate
summary of useful information discussed at the workshop
and obtained from other sources. However, ALA did not develop
the underlying information used to create the brochure and
does not warrant the accuracy and completeness of such information.
ALA emphasizes that asbestos should not be handled, sampled,
removed or repaired by anyone other than a qualified professional.
Table of Contents
What is Asbestos?
How Can Asbestos Affect My Health?
Where Can I Find Asbestos and When Can
it Be a Problem? What Should Be Done
About Asbestos in the home?
How to Identify Materials That Contain
How to Manage an Asbestos Problem
Asbestos Do's and Don'ts for the Homeowner
Asbestos Professionals: Who are They and
What Can They Do? If You Hire a
Professional Asbestos Inspector
If You Hire a Corrective-Action Contractor
For More Information
Asbestos is a mineral fiber. It can be positively
identified only with a special type of microscope. There
are several types of asbestos fibers. In the past, asbestos
was added to a variety of products to strengthen them and
to provide heat insulation and fire resistance.
How Can Asbestos
Affect My Health?
From studies of people who were exposed
to asbestos in factories and shipyards, we know that breathing
high levels of asbestos fibers can lead to an increased
- lung cancer: -- mesothelioma,
a cancer of the lining of the chest and the abdominal
- and -- asbestosis, in which the lungs become scarred
with fibrous tissue.
The risk of lung cancer and mesothelioma
increases with the number of fibers inhaled. The risk of
lung cancer from inhaling asbestos fibers is also greater
if you smoke. People who get asbestosis have usually been
exposed to high levels of asbestos for a long time. The
symptoms of these diseases do not usually appear until about
20 to 30 years after the first exposure to asbestos.
Most people exposed to small amounts of
asbestos, as we all are in our daily lives, do not develop
these health problems. However, if disturbed, asbestos material
may release asbestos fibers, which can be inhaled into the
lungs. The fibers can remain there for a long time, increasing
the risk of disease. Asbestos material that would crumble
easily if handled, or that has been sawed, scraped, or sanded
into a powder, is more likely to create a health hazard.
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I Find Asbestos And When Can It Be A Problem?
Most products made today do not contain
asbestos. Those few products made which still contain asbestos
that could be inhaled are required to be labeled as such.
However, until the 1970s, many types of building products
and insulation materials used in homes contained asbestos.
Common products that might have contained asbestos in the
past, and conditions which may release fibers, include:
- STEAM PIPES, BOILERS, and FURNACE DUCTS
insulated with an asbestos blanket or asbestos paper tape.
These materials may release asbestos fibers if damaged,
repaired, or removed improperly.
- RESILIENT FLOOR TILES (vinyl asbestos,
asphalt, and rubber), the backing on VINYL SHEET FLOORING,
and ADHESIVES used for installing floor tile. Sanding
tiles can release fibers. So may scraping or sanding the
backing of sheet flooring during removal.
- CEMENT SHEET, MILLBOARD, and PAPER used
as insulation around furnaces and woodburning stoves.
Repairing or removing appliances may release asbestos
fibers. So may cutting, tearing, sanding, drilling, or
- DOOR GASKETS in furnaces, wood stoves,
and coal stoves. Worn seals can release asbestos fibers
- SOUNDPROOFING OR DECORATIVE MATERIAL
sprayed on walls and ceilings. Loose, crumbly, or water-damaged
material may release fibers. So will sanding, drilling,
or scraping the material.
- PATCHING AND JOINT COMPOUNDS for walls
and ceilings, and TEXTURED PAINTS. Sanding, scraping,
or drilling these surfaces may release asbestos.
- ASBESTOS CEMENT ROOFING, SHINGLES, and
SIDING. These products are not likely to release asbestos
fibers unless sawed, dilled, or cut.
- ARTIFICIAL ASHES AND EMBERS sold for
use in gas-fired fireplaces. Also, other older household
products such as FIREPROOF GLOVES, STOVE-TOP PADS, IRONING
BOARD COVERS, and certain HAIRDRYERS.
- AUTOMOBILE BRAKE PADS AND LININGS, CLUTCH
FACINGS, and GASKETS.
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Be Done About Asbestos In The Home?
If you think asbestos may be in your home,
don't panic! Usually the best thing is to LEAVE asbestos
material that is in good condition ALONE.
Generally, material in good condition will
not release asbestos fibers. THERE IS NO DANGER unless
fibers are released and inhaled into the lungs.
Check material regularly if you suspect
it may contain asbestos. Don't touch it, but look for signs
of wear or damage such as tears, abrasions, or water damage.
Damaged material may release asbestos fibers. This is particularly
true if you often disturb it by hitting, rubbing, or handling
it, or if it is exposed to extreme vibration or air flow.
Sometimes, the best way to deal with slightly
damaged material is to limit access to the area and not
touch or disturb it. Discard damaged or worn asbestos gloves,
stove-top pads, or ironing board covers. Check with local
health, environmental, or other appropriate officials to
find out proper handling and disposal procedures.
If asbestos material is more than slightly
damaged, or if you are going to make changes in your home
that might disturb it, repair or removal by a professional
is needed. Before you have your house remodeled, find out
whether asbestos materials are present.
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How To Identify
Materials That Contain Asbestos
You can't tell whether a material contains
asbestos simply by looking at it, unless it is labeled.
If in doubt, treat the material as if it contains asbestos
or have it sampled and analyzed by a qualified professional.
A professional should take samples for analysis, since a
professional knows what to look for, and because there may
be an increased health risk if fibers are released. In fact,
if done incorrectly, sampling can be more hazardous than
leaving the material alone. Taking samples yourself is not
recommended. If you nevertheless choose to take the samples
yourself, take care not to release asbestos fibers into
the air or onto yourself. Material that is in good condition
and will not be disturbed (by remodeling, for example) should
be left alone. Only material that is damaged or will be
disturbed should be sampled. Anyone who samples asbestos-containing
materials should have as much information as possible on
the handling of asbestos before sampling, and at a minimum,
should observe the following procedures:
- Make sure no one else is in the room
when sampling is done.
- Wear disposable gloves or wash hands
- Shut down any heating or cooling systems
to minimize the spread of any released fibers.
- Do not disturb the material any more
than is needed to take a small sample.
- Place a plastic sheet on the floor below
the area to be sampled.
- Wet the material using a fine mist of
water containing a few drops of detergent before taking
the sample. The water/detergent mist will reduce the release
of asbestos fibers.
- Carefully cut a piece from the entire
depth of the material using, for example, a small knife,
corer, or other sharp object. Place the small piece into
a clean container (for example, a 35 mm film canister,
small glass or plastic vial, or high quality resealable
- Tightly seal the container after the
sample is in it.
- Carefully dispose of the plastic sheet.
Use a damp paper towel to clean up any material on the
outside of the container or around the area sampled. Dispose
of asbestos materials according to state and local procedures.
- Label the container with an identification
number and clearly state when and where the sample was
- Patch the sampled area with the smallest
possible piece of duct tape to prevent fiber release.
- Send the sample to an EPA-approved laboratory
for analysis. The National Institute for Standards and
Technology (NIST) has a list of these laboratories. You
can get this list from the Laboratory Accreditation Administration,
NIST, Gaithersburg, MD 20899 (telephone 301-975-4016).
Your state or local health department may also be able
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How To Manage
An Asbestos Problem
If the asbestos material is in good shape
and will not be disturbed, do nothing! If
it is a problem, there are two types of corrections: repair
REPAIR usually involves either sealing
or covering asbestos material.
involves treating the material with a sealant that either
binds the asbestos fibers together or coats the material
so fibers are not released. Pipe, furnace, and boiler
insulation can sometimes be repaired this way. This should
be done only by a professional trained to handle asbestos
Covering (enclosure) involves
placing something over or around the material that contains
asbestos to prevent release of fibers. Exposed insulated
piping may be covered with a protective wrap or jacket.
With any type of repair, the asbestos remains
in place. Repair is usually cheaper than removal, but it
may make later removal of asbestos, if necessary, more difficult
and costly. Repairs can either be major or minor.
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And Don'ts For The Homeowner
- Do keep activities to a minimum in any
areas having damaged material that may contain asbestos.
- Do take every precaution to avoid damaging
- Do have removal and major repair done
by people trained and qualified in handling asbestos.
It is highly recommended that sampling and minor repair
also be done by asbestos professionals.
- Don't dust, sweep, or vacuum debris that
may contain asbestos.
- Don't saw, sand, scrape, or drill holes
in asbestos materials.
- Don't use abrasive pads or brushes on
power strippers to strip wax from asbestos flooring. Never
use a power stripper on a dry floor.
- Don't sand or try to level asbestos flooring
or its backing. When asbestos flooring needs replacing,
install new floor covering over it, if possible.
- Don't track material that could contain
asbestos through the house. If you cannot avoid walking
through the area, have it cleaned with a wet mop. If the
material is from a damaged area, or if a large area must
be cleaned, call an asbestos professional.
Major repairs must be done only by a professional
trained in methods for safely handling asbestos.
Minor repairs should also be done by professionals
since there is always a risk of exposure to fibers when
asbestos is disturbed.
Doing minor repairs yourself is not recommended
since improper handling of asbestos materials can create
a hazard where none existed. If you nevertheless choose
to do minor repairs, you should have as much information
as possible on the handling of asbestos before doing anything.
Contact your state or local health department or regional
EPA office for information about asbestos training programs
in your area. Your local school district may also have information
about asbestos professionals and training programs for school
buildings. Even if you have completed a training program,
do not try anything more than minor repairs. Before undertaking
minor repairs, carefully examine the area around the damage
to make sure it is stable. As a general matter, any damaged
area which is bigger than the size of your hand is not a
Before undertaking minor repairs, be sure
to follow all the precautions described earlier for sampling
asbestos material. Always wet the asbestos material using
a fine mist of water containing a few drops of detergent.
Commercial products designed to fill holes and seal damaged
areas are available. Small areas of material such as pipe
insulation can be covered by wrapping a special fabric,
such as rewettable glass cloth, around it. These products
are available from stores (listed in the telephone directory
under Safety Equipment and Clothing") which specialize in
asbestos materials and safety items.
REMOVAL is usually the most expensive
method and, unless required by state or local regulations,
should be the last option considered in most situations.
This is because removal poses the greatest risk of fiber
release. However, removal may be required when remodeling
or making major changes to your home that will disturb asbestos
material. Also, removal may be called for if asbestos material
is damaged extensively and cannot be otherwise repaired.
Removal is complex and must be done only by a contractor
with special training. Improper removal may actually increase
the health risks to you and your family.
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Who Are They And What Can They Do?
Asbestos professionals are trained in handling
asbestos material. The type of professional will depend
on the type of product and what needs to be done to correct
the problem. You may hire a general asbestos contractor
or, in some cases, a professional trained to handle specific
products containing asbestos.
Asbestos professionals can conduct home
inspections, take samples of suspected material, assess
its condition, and advise about what corrections are needed
and who is qualified to make these corrections. Once again,
material in good condition need not be sampled unless it
is likely to be disturbed. Professional correction or abatement
contractors repair or remove asbestos materials.
Some firms offer combinations of testing,
assessment, and correction. A professional hired to assess
the need for corrective action should not be connected with
an asbestos-correction firm. It is better to use two different
firms so there is no conflict of interest. Services vary
from one area to another around the country.
The federal government has training courses
for asbestos professionals around the country. Some state
and local governments also have or require training or certification
courses. Ask asbestos professionals to document their completion
of federal or state-approved training. Each person performing
work in your home should provide proof of training and licensing
in asbestos work, such as completion of EPA-approved training.
State and local health departments or EPA regional offices
may have listings of licensed professionals in your area.
If you have a problem that requires the
services of asbestos professionals, check their credentials
carefully. Hire professionals who are trained, experienced,
reputable, and accredited - especially if accreditation
is required by state or local laws. Before hiring a professional,
ask for references from previous clients. Find out if they
were satisfied. Ask whether the professional has handled
similar situations. Get cost estimates from several professionals,
as the charges for these services can vary.
Though private homes are usually not covered
by the asbestos regulations that apply to schools and public
buildings, professionals should still use procedures described
during federal or state-approved training. Homeowners should
be alert to the chance of misleading claims by asbestos
consultants and contractors. There have been reports of
firms incorrectly claiming that asbestos materials in homes
must be replaced. In other cases, firms have encouraged
unnecessary removals or performed them improperly. Unnecessary
removals are a waste of money. Improper removals may actually
increase the health risks to you and your family. To guard
against this, know what services are available and what
procedures and precautions are needed to do the job properly.
In addition to general asbestos contractors,
you may select a roofing, flooring, or plumbing contractor
trained to handle asbestos when it is necessary to remove
and replace roofing, flooring, siding, or asbestos-cement
pipe that is part of a water system. Normally, roofing and
flooring contractors are exempt from state and local licensing
requirements because they do not perform any other asbestos-correction
work. Call 1-800-USA-ROOF for names of qualified roofing
contractors in your area. (Illinois residents call 708-318-6722.)
For information on asbestos in floors, read "Recommended
Work Procedures for Resilient Floor Covers." You can write
for a copy from the Resilient Floor Covering Institute,
401 E. Jefferson Street, Suite 102, Rockville, MD. 20850,
301-340-8580 (www.rfci.com ). Enclose a stamped, business-size,
Asbestos-containing automobile brake pads
and linings, clutch facings, and gaskets should be repaired
and replaced only by a professional using special protective
equipment. Many of these products are now available without
asbestos. For more information, read "Guidance for Preventing
Asbestos Disease Among Auto Mechanics," available from regional
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Hire A Professional Asbestos Inspector
- Make sure that the inspection will include
a complete visual examination and the careful collection
and lab analysis of samples. If asbestos is present, the
inspector should provide a written evaluation describing
its location and extent of damage, and give recommendations
for correction or prevention.
- Make sure an inspecting firm makes frequent
site visits if it is hired to assure that a contractor
follows proper procedures and requirements. The inspector
may recommend and perform checks after the correction
to assure the area has been properly cleaned.
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Hire A Corrective-Action Contractor
- Check with your local air pollution control
board, the local agency responsible for worker safety,
and the Better Business Bureau. Ask if the firm has had
any safety violations. Find out if there are legal actions
filed against it.
- Insist that the contractor use the proper
equipment to do the job. The workers must wear approved
respirators, gloves, and other protective clothing.
- Before work begins, get a written contract
specifying the work plan, cleanup, and the applicable
federal, state, and local regulations which the contractor
must follow (such as notification requirements and asbestos
disposal procedures). Contact your state and local health
departments, EPA's regional office, and the Occupational
Safety and Health Administration's regional office to
find out what the regulations are. Be sure the contractor
follows local asbestos removal and disposal laws. At the
end of the job, get written assurance from the contractor
that all procedures have been followed.
- Assure that the contractor avoids spreading
or tracking asbestos dust into other areas of your home.
They should seal the work area from the rest of the house
using plastic sheeting and duct tape, and also turn off
the heating and air conditioning system. For some repairs,
such as pipe insulation removal, plastic glove bags may
be adequate. They must be sealed with tape and properly
disposed of when the job is complete.
- Make sure the work site is clearly marked
as a hazard area. Do not allow household members and pets
into the area until work is completed.
- Insist that the contractor apply a wetting
agent to the asbestos material with a hand sprayer that
creates a fine mist before removal. Wet fibers do not
float in the air as easily as dry fibers and will be easier
to clean up.
- Make sure the contractor does not break
removed material into small pieces. This could release
asbestos fibers into the air. Pipe insulation was usually
installed in preformed blocks and should be removed in
- Upon completion, assure that the contractor
cleans the area well with wet mops, wet rags, sponges,
or HEPA (high efficiency particulate air) vacuum cleaners.
A regular vacuum cleaner must never be used. Wetting helps
reduce the chance of spreading asbestos fibers in the
air. All asbestos materials and disposable equipment and
clothing used in the job must be placed in sealed, leak-proof,
and labeled plastic bags. The work site should be visually
free of dust and debris. Air monitoring (to make sure
there is no increase of asbestos fibers in the air) may
be necessary to assure that the contractor's job is done
properly. This should be done by someone not connected
with the contractor.
Do not dust, sweep, or vacuum
debris that may contain asbestos. These steps will disturb
tiny asbestos fibers and may release them into the air.
Remove dust by wet mopping or with a special HEPA vacuum
cleaner used by trained asbestos contractors.
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For more information
Contact your local American Lung Association
for copies of:
- Indoor Air Pollution Fact Sheet - Asbestos
- Air Pollution In Your Home?
- Other publications on indoor pollution
For more information on asbestos in other
consumer products, call the CPSC Hotline or write to the
U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission, Washington, DC
20207. The CPSC Hotline has information on certain appliances
and products, such as the brands and models of hair dryers
that contain asbestos. Call CPSC at 1-800-638-CPSC. A teletypewriter
(TTY) for the hearing impaired is available at 1-800-638-8270.
The Maryland TTY number is 1-800-492-8104.
To find out whether your state has a training
and certification program for asbestos removal contractors,
and for information on EPA's asbestos programs, call the
EPA at 202-554-1404.
For more information on asbestos identification
and control activities, contact the Asbestos Coordinator
in the EPA Regional Office for your region, or your state
or local health department.
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