Asbestos is a group of naturally-occurring fibrous minerals that separate into very fine fibers. Asbestos fibers are strong, heat-resistant, and very durable. Asbestos is considered most dangerous when it is crushed, crumbled, or disturbed (occurs especially during remodeling or demolition) because it can release tiny fibers into the air. These fibers remain suspended in the air for a long time and can easily penetrate body tissue after being inhaled or ingested. Inhalation of asbestos fibers can lead to asbestosis (scarring of the lungs), mesothelioma (cancer), and lung cancer.
Because of these serious health risks, building materials containing asbestos must be disposed of according to strict state and federal regulations, which include disposal only in landfills certified by DEQ to accept asbestos waste. Contractors are liable for failure to follow regulations, procedures, and permitting requirements for containing, hauling, disposing, and keeping records of asbestos waste.
Great care is needed to protect air quality while working with asbestos-containing materials. Do not cut, scrape, tear, sand, saw, or drill asbestos-containing materials unless absolutely necessary.
General Information about Asbestos
- Asbestos Hazard Emergency Response Act (AHERA).
- Clean Air Act Amendments of 1990 Includes federal requirements on handling asbestos found in commercial buildings, schools (K-12), and public institutions.
Examples of places in a house or building where asbestos might be found:
- The primary concern about asbestos-containing material is when it exists in friable form. Friable means that the material can be crumbled or crushed with hand pressure and is therefore likely to emit fibers.
- Asbestos-containing material existing in non-friable form and in good (undamaged) condition should present no problems as long as it is left alone and maintained in good condition.
- Basic precautions when dealing with asbestos:
- Do not disturb the material. If the asbestos is in poor condition, do not allow it to be released into the air (for example, by walking through the area or pushing it aside to work in the area).
- If asbestos-containing materials are in poor condition and you need to work in the area, ask a professional before disturbing the materials
- Asbestos-containing material is usually found in:
- Surfacing material sprayed or troweled on ceilings and walls
- Insulation around pipes, boilers, ducts, and tanks
- Miscellaneous materials such as wallboard or floor tiles
- Important banning dates of asbestos-containing materials:
- 1973 for asbestos spray-applied insulating materials
- 1976 for asbestos pre-molded insulation (if friable)
- 1978 for asbestos spray-applied decorative materials
- It is extremely difficult to determine which homes might have asbestos-containing materials. These materials have been available since World War II, and asbestos has even been unknowingly reapplied as recently as the late 1980s.
- A trained Asbestos Inspector is the best person to locate asbestos-containing materials in a building (see Worker Training, Certification, and Fees in this section for more information). This person also knows where to sample for asbestos.
The above list does not include every material or place in a house or building that may contain asbestos. More than 3,000 building products contain asbestos. The age of the building is not a valid way to determine the presence of asbestos. Always have suspicious material tested.
- Exterior Surfaces - exterior walls and closed decks built with a fire retardant sheeting that looks like gray cardboard; cement asbestos board (usually light gray in color) used as sheets for straight and lap siding, or shaped to substitute for wood shingles; roof felt or window putty.
- Wall and Ceiling Insulation - loose blown-in and batt insulation (especially in homes built or remodeled between 1930 and 1950) found where interior spaces need to be protected from outside temperatures (such as outside walls and floor or roof/attic spaces between structural joists and rafters).
- Floor Coverings - sheet vinyl (including the backing or underlayment), vinyl tile, and vinyl adhesive.
- Furnaces, Boilers, Heaters, and Piping - insulation blankets (the outside covering or shell), door gaskets, duct insulation, and tape at duct connections of furnaces and boilers; furnaces with asbestos-containing insulation and cement (the material is white or gray in color and resembles plaster) generally installed in older homes between 1920 and 1972; on and inside furnace ducts; insulation or asbestos paper (which looks like corrugated cardboard) around steam and water pipes, particularly at elbows, tees, and valves; cement sheets, millboard, and paper frequently used as thermal insulation for protection of floors and walls around woodstoves.
- Interior Surfaces - sprayed-on or troweled-on surface material on wall and ceiling surfaces; acoustical tiles, textured paint, or heat reflectors (woodstoves).
- Electrical Equipment - materials in older lamp socket collars, electric switch and receptacle boxes, liners for recessed lighting, backing for switchboard panels, fuse boxes, and old-fashioned "knob & tube" wiring.
- Built-in Equipment - oven or dishwasher (in cabinet) units were often wrapped in insulation blankets or sheets until the mid-1970s; water heaters, range hoods, or clothes dryers.
- Appliances - parts with asbestos-containing materials in refrigerators, freezers, portable dishwashers, or ovens.
Contractors can be subject to civil penalties up to $10,000 for violating asbestos regulations or causing contamination. Because the public has become increasingly aware of the danger from asbestos, contractors who do not take required precautions may also be subject to private lawsuits.
Since November 1992, the EPA has required an inspection by an EPA-certified inspector prior to any remodeling, renovation, restoration, or demolition of public and commercial buildings. In addition, an asbestos removal plan must be developed by an Asbestos Hazard Emergency Response Act (AHERA) designer. Work in schools (K-12) and public buildings must meet additional requirements outlined by EPA under the federal AHERA. For more information, contact a regional EPA office.
Federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) regulations governing asbestos promote worker safety and include safe work practices, worker exposure limits, labeling, employee training, protective clothing and respirators, medical surveillance, monitoring and record keeping. For more information, contact a local OSHA office:
Contractors are responsible for determining whether a substance contains asbestos. Unfortunately, the asbestos fibers that can cause health problems are much too small to be seen without a powerful microscope. The only way to be sure whether a substance contains asbestos is to have the material tested.
It is wise to hire a consulting firm or a trained asbestos inspector to take the sample and analyze it. If you choose to sample the material yourself, carefully follow these steps:
If asbestos is present, contractors must follow EPA, state environmental agency, and OSHA regulations. If you do not test a material, you should proceed as if the material contains asbestos. Failure to realize that a substance contains asbestos does not absolve contractors from liability.
- Ask the analytical lab how large a sample is required.
- Make sure employees wear a High Efficiency Particulate Air (HEPA) filter respirator and disposal gloves.
- Do not disturb the material any more than is required to take the sample.
- Wet the material using a fine water mist prior to taking the sample.
- Penetrate the depth of the dampened material with a clean sample container, such as a 35mm film canister, a small glass, or a plastic vial.
- Tightly seal the container.
- Use a damp paper towel to clean up any material that spilled outside of the container.
- Label the container, indicating when and where the sample was taken.
- Take the sample to an analytical laboratory.
- Repair the sample location with caulk.
Worker Training, Certification, and Fees
- Test for asbestos using a certified consultant or follow the procedures listed above.
- Investigate and follow state requirements for handling and local Class II landfill requirements for disposing of, asbestos-containing materials.
- Only contract with certified asbestos abatement contractors.
- Make proper notifications prior to handling, removing, or encapsulating asbestos.
Depending on regulations in your city the following issues may apply to you.
- Contractor/Worker Licensing
- Notification of Asbestos Abatement
- Required Work Practices and Procedures
- Asbestos Disposal and Record Keeping
- Disposal of asbestos must follow regulatory requirements.
- Required methods of containing asbestos waste
- Specific procedures for hauling waste
- Disposal in a landfill authorized to accept asbestos waste
- Formal record keeping of asbestos waste disposal