How Can I Tell If Materials Contain Asbestos?

How Can I Tell If Materials Contain Asbestos?

Asbestos is a fiber that was once common in a variety of building materials. It is non-conducting and resistant to heat, fire, and chemicals. Because of its properties, asbestos was utilized as an insulator, and it was how many buildings—including schools—were fireproofed. As a result, it was widely used in construction, but over time, its hazardous properties were discovered. However, homeowners are still at risk for exposure.

Why Is Asbestos Dangerous?

This material becomes hazardous when it degrades. Unlike most substances, which turn to dust when they degrade, asbestos breaks down into tiny, imperceptible fibers. When asbestos is knocked loose or its integrity is weakened in any way, fibers can easily become inhaled in people’s lungs. The result is a long-lasting fiber becoming trapped inside a person’s lungs, causing a great deal of scarring and long-term damage. Asbestos has also been discovered to be carcinogenic, or to be a cancer-causing material.

As a result, asbestos use became widely limited in the 1970s, and few products are built with asbestos today. Asbestos-exposure is fairly unavoidable, however—there are traces of it everywhere, including the air we breathe or the water we drink. It only becomes dangerous when it becomes a part of a person’s daily routine. The people most at risk for harmful asbestos exposure are people who work with the material, or anyone who has significant environmental contact. This would include anyone alive beforr the 1970s.

Does My Home or Office Have Asbestos?

Now that we’ve covered why it is important to know if asbestos is in your materials, here’s how you discover them. The first thing to consider is the age of your home. As mentioned earlier, the use of asbestos was legally restricted in the 1970s—however, homes built prior to 1980, if not fully renovated, would still contain the original asbestos it was built with. This is especially risky, as old asbestos is likely to degrade.

Asbestos in old homes could be contained in:

  • Roof shingles
  • Floor & ceiling tiles
  • Boiler insulation
  • Fireplace insulation
  • Duct & pipe insulation

If your home has never been completely renovated in all of these areas, it may contain unsafe and degraded asbestos. New homes may also contain smaller amounts of asbestos that are still harmful over time, so even if your home was built after 1981, you’ll want to check. Some attic insulation can also contain illegal amounts of asbestos in newer homes. This has resulted in hundreds of lawsuits settled out-of-court.

The Surest Way to Check for Asbestos

Unfortunately, looking for asbestos in your home is practically fruitless. Asbestos fibers can be microscopic, so figuring out if your home contains the material is largely a game of “best-guess” without a professional. What you can do is send a sample of any material you suspect to contain asbestos to a laboratory for testing. Our in-house lab analysis at RPF Environmental, Inc. is fully accredited, and is only one part of our comprehensive asbestos removal services. Let us handle it with industry-leading tools and staff.

The lab you choose will test the material using Polarized Light Microscopy and Transmission Electron Microscopy. However, collecting a sample yourself can be potentially dangerous as well. Trying to obtain a sample may expose you to far more asbestos than you normally inhale. You may also knock loose asbestos in the process, creating a far greater problem for your household. Experts like the American Lung Association instead ask that you hire a professional to obtain a sample, who can do it safely and effectively.

If asbestos is discovered in your home, you will need a professional to ensure that your residence is safe. RPF Environmental can evaluate if your asbestos is dangerous to keep in the home, or if you would benefit from smaller renovations instead. The only certain solution is to completely remove the insulation, which is potentially dangerous if left to inexperienced hands.You'll want to hire a professional for this job.

If you suspect there is asbestos in your home or building, contact RPF Environmental, Inc. today!