Use a Professional to Identify Asbestos
Asbestos identification and abatement is best left for the professional who does it daily, much like a rare disease is best treated by a specialist. It’s not a job for the home improvement novice or the general practitioner. There is too much at stake.
In BC for example, WorkSafe BC OHS regulation 6.1 requires asbestos identification and risk assessments to be performed by a qualified person (QP) who has knowledge, experience and education in the control of asbestos. The regulation goes on to further define the credentials of a qualified person.
Although the use of asbestos has dropped significantly in recent decades, it remains prevalent in residential and commercial structures and facilities built before 1990. Even newer construction may contain products with asbestos.
Asbestos is the naturally occurring mineral that was used liberally throughout the 20th century and coveted for its heat resistance, versatility and affordability. It was used to strengthen and protect most everything.
Unfortunately, it also was toxic, making it dangerous when it ages, becomes worn and or is disturbed, sending the microscopic fibers into the air. If inhaled or ingested unknowingly, those tiny fibers eventually can lead to serious, often life-threatening health issues.
The first reason to find a "Qualified" asbestos abatement specialist is that identifying the material is difficult, unless it is labeled, which is rare and even then, many old surveys conducted for asbestos are inaccurate and should be updated.
Asbestos can be found in over 3,000 building products. In homes, businesses, ships, factories and on and on. It can be found in floor tiles, ceiling tiles, roofing materials, drywall, pipe cement, joint compound, insulation, boilers, furnaces and any number of other places. It is in fuse boxes and on light sockets, boilers, heating pipes, wall and roof cladding etc.
Because it can be mixed with virtually anything, it is often unrecognizable. A visual inspection is not sufficient to determine if there is asbestos present, even by the experts.
Samples of suspected fibers must be sent to a laboratory for analysis. They can be tested with a Transmission Electron Microscopy or with a Polarized Light Microscopy, two common methods used to make a determination.
Finding asbestos in your home or business is no reason to panic or put up a for sale sign. If the asbestos product is in good condition and isn’t disturbed, there is little danger.
Conversely, if the asbestos product is in an airstream and or damaged, repaired or removed improperly during a remodeling, demolition or renovation, it can cause serious health problems, such as lung cancer, asbestosis, or malignant mesothelioma. Any drilling, sanding, scrapping or cutting of the asbestos will send the fibers airborne, which could be dangerous for anyone in the vicinity. An asbestos abatement professional could help avoid any risk of exposure.
Although the risk may seem minimal initially, the long-term implications are major. The latency period between exposure and diagnosis of an asbestos-related disease can be anywhere from 10-50 years. If you develop an asbestos related disease, it’s important to see a specialist and learn more about treatment options that are available.
A professional can remove asbestos in a safe and regulated manner, avoiding any problems for you or anyone else in the residential, commercial or industrial building and facilities.
The American Lung Association recommends hiring a certified asbestos professional anytime you suspect a problem. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency EPA recommends that homeowners with asbestos follow a few guidelines in dealing with asbestos:
- Do not sweep, vacuum or dust debris that may contain asbestos.
- Do not disturb undamaged asbestos materials.
- Remove asbestos before any remodeling is done.
- Limit activities in places where asbestos has been damaged.
- Use trained professionals and QP's around any asbestos project.
If not done correctly, even removal can pose a risk. Make sure your contractor is using a HEPA vacuum and a respirator when doing the work. Do not try and do it alone.