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Damaged or disturbed asbestos in home presents health hazards

When my friend learned there was asbestos in the roof of a house he was looking to buy in Boulder City, it reminded me that the scarlet letter ‘A’ of building materials is something to be wary of when you own a home.

Indeed, asbestos continues to be a shameful mark on the U.S. that still imports this dangerous product. We import 680 tons per year of asbestos containing material (ACM).

These silicate minerals are known for strength, chemical resistance, and fireproofing properties—making asbestos a popular additive to a slew of building materials. It wasn’t until the 1980s that the first meaningful asbestos laws came into effect. Today, although stringent laws restricting asbestos are in place, to date, there is no ban of asbestos in the U.S.

“We now know for certain that all forms of asbestos can cause mesothelioma, lung cancer and other chronic respiratory conditions”—Asbestos.com. Scary stuff.

The good news is that asbestos left undisturbed is harmless. Problems arise when it becomes friable, or crumbly, and the fibers get airborne and can be inhaled or ingested. Damaged or disturbed asbestos presents immediate health hazards.

Because of these potential health risks, all homeowners should know what to do in the, well, as-best and as-worst case scenarios of ACM in the home.

At city and state levels in Nevada, my research found nothing about ACM regulations for residential properties. Restrictive rules are established for commercial properties, including condos. Cole Stanton, Materials and Methods Specialist for Restoration Crosscheck, explains, most state rules are based on “your home is your castle.” For commercial spaces, however, an asbestos-licensed firm is required for removal and possibly repair.

“The age of a building indicates if it’s more or less likely to contain asbestos. Asbestos presence drops off on residential around the mid-1980s. But don’t let that give you a false sense of security. It’s important for homeowners to understand that even if their house was built yesterday, it could still have asbestos,” warns Stanton.

Steve Kiefer, owner of WIN Home Inspection Henderson, finds that asbestos is more prevalent in B.C. than Vegas because of the older homes.

Typical ACMs include: flooring (especially 9”x 9” tiles), mastic, wall and ceiling textures (“popcorn”), joint compound (“mud”), pipe wrap, structural panels, insulation, and appliances.

Kiefer explains that when performing an ordinary home inspection, asbestos isn’t specifically looked for. If there is suspicion, an inspector will recommend further evaluation by a licensed and qualified contractor, “like a general doctor referring you to a specialist.” That contractor will then hire a trained asbestos inspector to safely and strategically take samples.

According to the Consumer Product Safety Commission website, “the best thing to do with asbestos material in good condition is to leave it alone!” Left undisturbed, it’s harmless.

The only way to know for sure that a material contains asbestos is to have it professionally tested. The EPA recommends any suspected material that will be disturbed in a renovation be sampled by an accredited asbestos professional.

Craig Herrmann, owner of Mold Eliminators (Construction by Mirage) says “If you’re simply going to cut into a wall—pretty much anything more than driving a nail to hang a picture—you should first test if its ‘hot’ for asbestos.”

He emphasizes the importance of using an asbestos pro because they know correct areas to sample from. His company specializes in mold, lead, and asbestos abatement, all of which present health hazards and must be handled by trained experts that follow strict laws and regulations pertaining to their removal.

Stanton explains that abatement means making ACM permanently gone or permanently safe.

Besides removal, there are two other abatement methods: enclosure and encapsulation. Enclosure means mechanically attaching a fixed surface over the ACM, like sheetrock. Encapsulation means applying a specially formulated coating over the ACM. This method can be ideal for popcorn ceilings.

Stanton emphasizes, “With more than 10,000 deaths linked to asbestos each year, and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) facing criticism and lawsuits linked to flawed policymaking and assessments, a renewed momentum for abatement could be around the corner.”

Norma Vally is a veteran of home improvement; her career includes four seasons as host of Discovery Home Channel’s Emmy-nominated series “Toolbelt Diva.” A columnist and author, Vally splits her time in Southern Nevada, Los Angeles and New York City. Follow her on Facebook at Norma Vally “Toolbelt Diva” and visit her at www.NormaVally.com. Email Norma@NormaVally.com.

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