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Asbestos: What You Need to Know

While today most asbestos containing materials have either been banned (such as asbestos-containing joint compounds and spackle materials used in carpentry and drywall work) or effectively banned because their usage generates toxic levels of asbestos dust that exceed permissible OSHA or EPA standards, some common materials in your home may still contain asbestos, particularly if your home is an older home.  Be aware of the possibility for hazardous asbestos exposure and consult a licensed asbestos inspector if you have questions as to whether a particular substance contains asbestos.

If you have an old steam generating boiler in your basement, the boiler itself or the piping leading from the boiler may contain asbestos.  If you are looking to buy an older home, make sure your home inspector reviews the heating system to look for asbestos.  Asbestos may be found inside the jacket of older boilers or on the exterior of even older ones.  Asbestos may also be found in pipe covering on old steam pipes typically located in the basement.  Generally, the inspector will make a determination as to whether any of the asbestos is friable – meaning it can be easily crumbled thereby releasing toxic asbestos dust – or is safely sealed.  If the asbestos is friable you will need to engage an EPA certified asbestos removal or asbestos abatement company to remediate the asbestos hazard.

Another historically common asbestos containing material that may be found in the basement or kitchen or bathroom of older homes is asbestos-containing floor tile, generally known as VAT or Vinyl Asbestos Tile.  So long as the Vinyl Asbestos Tile is not disturbed, it should not present a hazard.  Problems arise when Harry Homeowner tries DIY projects and attempts to rip up, cut or discard old asbestos-containing material.  This type of project can release toxic asbestos dust into the breathing zone of the person performing the work and the invisible asbestos dust released can remain airborne for long periods of time and then settle on the floor or in carpeting and drapes.

Lastly, your old home may have asbestos-containing roofing or asbestos siding.  The asbestos found in these materials is outside of the home and generally not in a friable state.  But if you are going to have your old roof replaced or perform home renovation work involving an exterior wall, there is a possibility that asbestos will be disturbed and create a hazard.  Before performing work that may involve disturbing asbestos containing materials, consult a licensed professional asbestos inspector who can come and examine the material in question and take a sample of it to test for asbestos.  This way you can rest assured that you are not exposing yourself or any member of your family to an avoidable asbestos hazard.

Injuries from asbestos inhalation take many years to manifest themselves – anywhere from 10 to 40 years after the exposures to asbestos occur.  If you were exposed to asbestos through your job or otherwise you should discuss your exposure history with your doctor.  In order to protect your legal rights you may also wish to consult a Bethesda MD personal injury lawyer who has experience handling asbestos claims as you may have a right to compensation based on the nature of your asbestos exposure.


Thanks to our friends and contributors from Brown & Gould LLP for their insight into asbestos hazards.

About the Author

Steve Harrelson
Steve Harrelson
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