Where to look for asbestos in older homes

| April 25, 2013

row of old houses

During the peak of asbestos use in the United States, nearly every building was constructed with asbestos products. Almost every pre-1980 home was built with these hazardous materials, including shingles, insulation and tiles.

Many of those same products remain in place today, where they pose exposure risks to current contract workers who are hired to perform home renovations, whether remodeling or performing specialty projects.

After a long term exposure to asbestos, it can ultimately cause damage to your lungs and develop into mesothelioma cancer. The overall survival rate of this disease is usually low, but this is based on contributing factors and can only give a patient an idea of how long they will live.

Occupational safety organizations recommend that construction workers assume that any materials installed before the 1980s contain the toxic mineral until analysis confirms otherwise. Some of the most common products where asbestos is present in older homes include:

  • Insulation materials
  • Wallboard
  • Roofing and siding materials
  • Pipes
  • Paint
  • Textured wall coverings

Construction workers must be most aware of asbestos insulation in older homes. Houses built between 1930 and 1990 may contain asbestos insulation. Hot water and steam pipes were once insulated with asbestos blankets, and many oil or coal furnaces were also insulated with asbestos-containing materials. The insulation may also have been secured in place with asbestos tape.

Attic renovations may also place construction workers in contact with Zonolite – a loose-fill attic insulation product made from asbestos-contaminated vermiculite. Zonolite was produced until 1990, when the company’s primary vermiculite supplier finally closed.

What to Do in an Older Construction Site that Contains Asbestos:

Contract workers are commonly called to jobsites where asbestos abatement must be performed to ensure a safe working environment. Because most construction activities can release asbestos into the air, where it becomes a health hazard, asbestos-containing products must either be removed before construction or handled with certain measures to ensure that the fibers are not disturbed.

Asbestos testing must first be completed to determine which construction products do contain asbestos. Although asbestos can be seen in some older products that are breaking apart, construction workers cannot visually confirm the presence of asbestos in the majority of industrial products. As a result, all suspicious products should be sampled and sent to a laboratory for a microscopic evaluation.

If the test reveals the presence of asbestos in a building, it must be either repaired or removed. Construction workers who are specially trained in asbestos abatement are required to handle this process.

Typically, asbestos-containing products will need treatment with a liquid solution and removed while wet, then disposed of in specially designated landfills. The construction site must then be cleaned with a HEPA-filtered vacuum.

To protect their health during these tasks, construction workers must wear specific gear (including a respirator with a HEPA filter). This gear should be left at the worksite when workers go home for the day.

Although these steps may be time-consuming, the hazards of asbestos exposure always outweigh the inconvenience of following the safety precautions.

For more information on Asbestos and Mesothelioma Cancer click here.

Author bio: Faith Franz is a writer for The Mesothelioma Center. She combines her interests in whole-body health and medical research to educate the mesothelioma community about the newest developments in cancer care.

Ed. Note: For asbestos warning signs and labels, click here.

Category: Guest Post, Safety Tips