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What about asbestos in and around your house?

Stringent new standards for asbestos inspections in schools have brought the whole question of asbestos hazard's to everyone's attention. Now, homeowners and buyers and lenders-have begun focusing on potential problems, and the costs of solving them.

As a result, many homeowners are wondering whether they should take steps to remove all asbestos in their homes, however slight the amount.

In truth, the health hazards of low-level

exposure are still undetermined. Effects of the material on the human body take decades to become apparent. What we do know is summarized in the section, The health risk question, page 90.

But the problem takes on more significant if you're remodeling taking down a ceiling or wall, relaying a floor, moving a furnace, or extending ducts.

Coping with asbestos: 18 areas of concern around the home

The term asbestos refers to a group of minerals that can be separated into tiny fibers which are fire resistant and almost indestructible. In homes, the most widely used kind is chrysotile, or white asbestos. Other types include crocidolite, or blue asbestos, and amosite, or brown asbestos.

To find out what homeowners should or should not do about asbestos, we went to experts in the field-including health officials, asbestos removal firms, consultants, researchers, and lawmakers. The drawing above shows the commonest sources in tbe home, and the numbered list that follows gives advice on identifying and coping with the material in its various guises.

One point that all these experts agree on: it can be more hazardous to remove or repair asbestos improperly than to leave it alone. The other point they recommend: don't undertake a major repair-or removal-of asbestos-containing material on your own. Get professional help.

And your concern should be tempered, nevertheless, with the realization that you are unlikely to be exposed to even small doses unless the material is damaged or significantly disturbed-as during a remodel.

And the less crumbly the material, the less likely it is to pose a significant risk. For example, a hard transite (asbestos cement flue isn't likely to release fibers unless it's broken. In contrast, soft, easily damaged cellulose-asbestos duct insulation is more likely to become a risk.

In the following list, we discuss the common household sources of asbestos in descending order, starting with the potentially most hazardous. In general, you needn't have asbestos products removed immediately unless they are deteriorating. If the material is in good condition, it's unlikely that any fibers are being released. And even if it is deteriorating, remember that you can expose yourself and your family to greater amounts of asbestos if you try to remove it on your own, rather than leaving it in place.

In considering the potential risk, remember that our list is a rough guideline. The hazard posed by an asbestos-containing product is affected by how accessible it is in your house and by its condition.

For more information onasbestos in the home, contact the Consumer Products Safety Commission (with offices in Albuquerque, Denver, Honolulu, L.A., Phoenix, Portland, S.E, and Seattle). Federal and state agencies involved with asbestos (see box on page 86) may be able to give you some information, but they can't give specific advice on your situation. Local libraries are your best sources of detailed information.

1. Artificial ashes. Until banned in 1978, artificial logs for gas fireplaces (see 14) were sold with artificial ashes that were 90 to 100 percent asbestos. Since they're tiny flakes that release fibers easily, have them removed right away. 2. Asbestos heater ducts. In some areas, especially in Southern California, some houses have heater ducts made of a product that contains 35 to 90 percent asbestos. Looking like grayish corrugated cardboard, it is sometimes faced with thin foil. As ducts deteriorate, fibers may be blown into the house. (Also see items 6 and 10.)

3. Pipe or boiler insulation. Old radiant heating systems (such as steam heat with radiators) may have asbestos insulation on the pipes and/or boiler. Usually 35 to 90 percent asbestos, this kind of insulation can release asbestos if damaged.

4. Contaminated basement or crawl space. If you have deteriorating asbestos-containing material (such as damaged heater duct insulation), some of the material may drop to the basement floor or crawl space. If anyone walks through it or if children play in the area, this can be a hazard. Also, if you know or suspect that an old heating system was removed, check for bits of left-over asbestos insulation. Never sweep or use your shop or household vacuum on such material, since this makes the tiny fibers airborne. Let a trained professional remove it.

5. Asbestos inside beater registers. Convection and forced-air heating systems may have registers with asbestos taping inside, and occasionally asbestos paper around the outside, as pictured below. If this deteriorates, air blowing over the surface may release asbestos. With some registers, you may have to use a mirror to cheek the condition of the taping, which may extend far into the duct.

6. Air-cell insulation. Are your metal ducts covered with insulation made up of the material pictured below left? (To distinguish it from sheeting insulation-item 10-look for ridges on the surface.) It's 35 to 90 percent asbestos, and should be professionally removed if torn or flaking. (For more on ducts, see item 2.)

7. Asbestos-backed linoleum. If you pull up linoleum sheet flooring that has asbestos backing or adhesive, you can be exposed to asbestos. The greatest danger is in sanding down such a floor or the adhesive. One alternative is to cover the old floor with particle board before installing a new one, as shown on page 85. An undisturbed floor should pose no hazard.

8. Fuse box liners, stove door gaskets. Old wooden fuse boxes may have a lining of up to 90 percent asbestos-a problem if it's frayed or damaged.

The doors of some wood-burning stoves, older gas and electric stoves, older furnaces, and hobby kilns may have gaskets that contain asbestos. These gaskets look like whitish gray flattened rope (fiberglass gaskets look similar but have slightly more sheen). If you suspect asbestos, write to the manufacturer for information, giving model and serial number. If the material is asbestos and is deteriorating, consider having it removed.

9. Textured acoustical ceilings. These "cottage cheese" ceilings tend not to be a problem unless damaged-by a roof leak or a child's bouncing ball, for example, They usually contain from less than 1 percent to 5 percent asbestos, but some may have up to 40 percent.

Don't disturb these ceilings. For example, make sure drapery movement doesn't rub off the material, and don't add devices such as plant hooks. Instead of sweeping to remove cobwebs, use a damp paper towel and seal towel and debris in a plastic bag before discarding. Painting or spraying these ceilings can also release fibers.

10. "Sheeting" insulation. Heater ducts may be covered with a gray or grayish white papery material that looks like the air-cell insulation pictured on page 86, but without ridges. This insulating wrap contains 40 to 90 percent asbestos; it's a problem only if disturbed or damaged. (See items 2 and 6 for more on ducts.)

11. Pad under furnace. Your furnace may stand on a pad containing asbestos or have an asbestos lining in the bottom. If it sticks out where it can be damaged, or if it's deteriorating, it should be removed.

12. Joint compounds and patching plaster. Until about 1979, many of these products contained 3 to 10 percent asbestos. They don't pose a problem unless you disturb them during remodeling, or sand them.

13. Acoustical ceiling overspray in ducts. Examine heater ducts for "cottagecheese" overspray. If it's deteriorating, it can release some fibers. (See item 9.)

14. Artificial concrete-asbestos logs. These gas-fireplace logs (20 to 45 percent asbestos) usually don't release asbestos unless they are broken and disintegrating. Use a mirror to check the back of the log.

15. Asbestos-insulated wiring. In older homes, some knob-and-tube wiring may have an insulating layer of material that is 50 to 60 percent asbestos. Look for a white coating on the wire, encased in a black fabric outer covering. This may release fibers if cut or pulled out. 16. Vinyl-asbestos floor tiles. Most vinyl floor tiles-even those sold now contain about 20 percent asbestos.

These may become a hazard when removed and broken up. Also the mastics and adhesives used to apply them often contain up to 25 percent asbestos. Do not sand such a floor, or sand the remaining mastic or adhesive after the tiles have been removed.

17. Roofing felts and tars. Many contain 10 to 15 percent asbestos, but have to be heavity worn or damaged before there's a chance they'll release fibers. Tars rarely release fibers. Improper demolition can cause much fiber release from felts, but the hazard is variable due to the fact that the material is outdoors.

18. Nonfriable materials. These include such noncrumbly products as asbestoscement and asphalt-asbestos shingles for roofs and "transite" flues, and asbestos fire-protection panels. They can contain 20 to 40 percent asbestos, but tend to release fibers only if damaged during a remodel.

Although many asphalt shingles sold today contain asbestos, they will not release fibers unless broken. Asbestos-cement shingles are brittle, with a light green, beige, or grayish white color, if not factory painted.

Remove, encapsulate, or repair?

Asbestos-containing materials have been installed from the early 1900s to the present. By 1978, EPA had banned the manufacture and sale of many friable such materials, and many companies voluntarily withdrew building materials and other items, such as small appliances,

which contained asbestos.

But you can't be absolutely sure that potentially friable materials installed after 1978 are free of asbestos. Contractors with inventories of asbestos-containing products were allowed to install them after that.

What should you do if you find these materials in your home? If a remodeling or other improvement demands their removal, get professional help. Or if any of these sources have deteriorated enough to pose a hazard, your choices are removal, encapsulation, or repair.

In general, encapsulation is a temporary solution with several drawbacks. If, say, you encapsul"cottage cheese" ceiling with a bridging or penetrating spray, the necessary precautions may sometimes be the same as for removal, which reduces the savings (encapsulation costs up to 70 percent as much as removal does).

Another drawback: if you decide later to remove the asbestos, the price may be even higher because the encapsulant makes the material waterproof and more difficult to remove.

Also, the encapsulant can deteriorate with time, and you or the future owners of your house will be back to square one. If you have onlyminor damage, such as when a small area of heater duct insulation has been ripped, consider having only this area repaired. Many experts say even this is not a do-it-yourself job.

And remember that this kind of damage should not be repaired with duct tape (it eventually pulls away), but with an asbestos-sealing material.

What will inspection and removal cost?

The answer: plenty. Industrial hygienists or asbestos consultants (see the box on page 86) charge from $150 to $500 for an inspection, depending on the size and complexity of the bouse. If you then have this person supervise the cleanup job, add hourly rates of $60 to $200.

Removal is also expensive; get estimates from several contractors. Don't necessarily choose the lowest bid-a higher price may indicate more stringent safety standards. You can have an industrial hygienist write the specifications for a contractor to bid on, or assist in evaluating the removal process suggested by the contractor. Get a written, signed proposal from the contractor before starting the job. Also, make sure you'll get a disposal receipt verifying that any removed material was properly buried at a toxic waste site. The cost of specific jobs can vary due to many factors. With several bids, you can get a good idea of what is out of line. Ask the contractor to explain a bid that is either too high or suspiciously low.

Removing a sprayed acoustical ceiling costs $3 to $10 (and even up to $30) per square foot, depending on the size of the job and other conditions. (you'll also have the additional cost of refinishing.) Is your problem asbestos insulation on heating ducts, or ducts made of asbestos? The cost of removing tbe ducts is $10 to $25 per lineal foot. Replacing them can add up to $8 to $15 per lineal foot.

The health risk question

Why is asbestos a health risk? There are still many unanswered questions, but the consensus is that the tiny fibers become a risk principally when inhaled. They tend to lodge in the body (especially in the lung area) and cause cancer. Asbestos workers are also subject to the debilitating respiratory ailment called asbestosis.

No one knows exactly how abestos causes cancer. Some speculate that surface chemistry is the key; others say it's the dimensions of the tiny fibers (a human hair is about a thousand times thicker).

Some researchers believe the most commonly used asbestos, chrysotile, is less dangerous than the other types. Taking a cautious approach, the EPA considers all types of asbestos potentially hazardous. Until we know more, your safest bet is to assume that all asbestos is dangerous. How much exposure will promote disease? Studies indicate a clear link between high levels of exposure-for example, to workers in asbestos factories-and the development of cancer and asbestosis. But no one knows the effects of low-level exposure. That's why the EPA recommends avoiding any exposure to friable asbestos-containing products.

When you need professional help with asbestos If you want to have your house checked for asbestos, or suspect asbestos-containing materials there, you need professional help.

Industrial hygienists, asbestos consultants

Industrial hygienists and asbestos consultants can inspect your house, take samples for testing, suggest contractors, assist in drawing up a removal plan, monitor the job, and inspect after the work has been completed.

Check the yellow pages under Industrial Hygienists or Industrial Hygiene Consultants. Asbestos consultants are listed under Asbestos Removal and Abatement.

Not all industrial hygienists are trained in asbestos work-be sure to ask. And not all will inspect residences; you may have to call several. Asbestos consultants usually charge less, but you should check their backgrounds and training (EPA certification in asbestos as a management planner, inspector, or project designer is one qualification to look for).

Avoid anyone who uses scare tactics, or suggests removal without taking suspect material to a lab for testing. Ask for references.

Although using one of these professionals

adds to your cost (see page 90), he or she can provide advice and assistance, generally without conflict of interest. Just make sure the one you choose doesn't have a close financial link with any one contractor.

Asbestos abatement contractors

Asbestos abatement contractors remove and dispose of asbestos-containing material. Their degree of training and competence varies widely, so select one carefully. Some unscrupulous firms have taken advantage of fears to do unnecessary work at high prices. Also, work done improperly creates a health risk, and can be expensive to correct.

Call several industrial hygienists or asbestos consultants for recommendations (note if the same contractor is suggested by several).

Legal requirements vary. For example, until recently in California, only minimal certification was required; now contractors must go through a more stringent state registration process.

To find out about the legal requirements for asbestos contractors in your area, check with your state contractors licensing board, area OSHA (Occupational Health and Safety Administration), or the state health department.

Look into the contractor's record. Ask about citations or violations (for example, permit problems may indicate safety violations); get answers in writing. You may want to verify this by checking with your local air pollution control agency, your state's department of labor, OSHA, and the Better Business Bureau. Check references.

How long has this firm been in the asbestos abatement business? (The longer the better.) Are the employees well trained? Will the daily monitoring of your job be done by a supervisor with advanced training? Also check on insurance; the firm should have general liability and asbestos liability insurance.
COPYRIGHT 1988 Sunset Publishing Corp.
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Copyright 1988 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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