Asbestos, a mineral fiber, was once widely used in a number of construction materials, including: roofing, flooring and ceiling tiles, insulation materials, and more. If the material isn’t wood, metal, glass, or plastic, there’s a chance it could contain asbestos. The existence of asbestos itself is not the issue; it becomes an issue when the material starts to break down when it is damaged, decayed, or disturbed. Home improvement efforts often free asbestos fibers and release them into the air, where can be inhaled and cause a number of health hazards.
Laws and Regulations about Asbestos
The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has banned some, but not all, uses of asbestos. These bans took place from 1973 until 1989.
Under the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA), the following products cannot be made, imported, processed, or distributed in the United States if they contain asbestos:
The regulation also prevents products that previously did not contain asbestos from being manufactured to contain it, as a “new use” product.
Under the Clean Air Act (CAA), the following asbestos-containing products are now banned:
Asbestos block and pipe insulation
Spray-on surfacing applications
Spray-on applications of asbestos that contain more than 1% asbestos to buildings, pipes, structures, and conduits (unless certain conditions are met)
Under the Consumer Product Safety Act, asbestos cannot be used in artificial fireplace embers or in wall patching compounds.
Federal law does not prohibit the manufacture, import, processing, or distribution of the following potentially asbestos-containing products: cement in some forms, clothing, vinyl floor tiles, roofing felt, brakes, automatic transmission parts, and many other common products.
Items in Your Home That May Contain Asbestos
If your home was constructed between the 1940s and 1970s, there’s a very real risk that some materials in your home may contain asbestos.
Thermal insulation on basement boilers and pipes; oil and coal furnaces and door gaskets may contain asbestos insulation
Insulation products that contain vermiculite (used in walls and attics)
Vinyl floor tile and adhesives
Textured paints and patching compounds (used on walls and ceilings)
Areas around wood burning stoves may be protected with millboard, paper, or cement sheets containing asbestos
Pipes may be coated with asbestos
Note: This is not a comprehensive list and testing may be needed to properly determine if a material contains asbestos.
Friable vs. Non-Friable Asbestos
There are two types of asbestos: friable and non-friable. Friable refers to an asbestos-containing material that can be crumbled under the pressure of the hands, which increases the likelihood the fibers will be emitted into the air. Spray-on materials, insulation, and asbestos used in soundproofing applications is considered friable. Non-friable materials are those that typically do not release fibers into the air as long as they are left intact. These materials include vinyl floor tiles, roof felt, and siding. However, be aware that if non-friable materials are subjected to abuse through sanding, sawing, nailing or other forms of destruction, they can become friable and release asbestos fibers into the air.
This is why most good-condition asbestos-containing materials can be left alone. However, if you’re doing any remodeling or renovation, for the sake of your health, it’s important to get the materials you’ll be removing, destroying, or working with in any way tested for asbestos—BEFORE you begin making any major changes to your home.
Which States are at the Highest Risk?
People in all states have a risk of mortality due of asbestos exposure. Some states are higher simply because their population is older, while other states are higher because of the increased environmental and occupational sources of exposure. The state of Wisconsin ranks 14th for mesothelioma and asbestosis deaths, with most deaths occurring in and around Milwaukee. Milwaukee has a blue-collar history of metal working and paper manufacturing, two industries which often used asbestos in their factory insulation. Other areas of the state with high cases of mesothelioma include: Madison, Green Bay, Kenosha, and Waukesha—all areas where paper mills are currently running or where they ran in the past.
For safety, never assume items in your older home do not contain asbestos. If you are aware of materials that contain asbestos in your home, leave them alone. If those materials need to be removed because of a remodeling project, contact the asbestos professionals at Wing Three to determine the protocol you’re required to follow for removal.