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Handling Asbestos

Asbestos still lingers in many older homes and buildings. Having the toxin safely removed by professionals is vital for preventing exposure.

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Key Points

  • 1

    Technically, asbestos that is undisturbed and in good condition is not dangerous.

  • 2

    As asbestos products age and wear, fibers can become airborne and cause exposure.

  • 3

    Homeowners should call certified asbestos professionals to safely remove the toxin.

  • 4

    There are strict laws in place for how asbestos can be handled and removed.

The safe removal and handling of asbestos is vital to preventing dangerous exposures. Asbestos was common in construction materials and other products for centuries before researchers began to link the mineral’s fibers with serious health risks, like asbestosis, mesothelioma and other asbestos cancers. Homes, buildings and schools built before 1980 are more than likely to contain asbestos somewhere, whether in the roof shingles, the insulation, an old furnace or elsewhere.

As these asbestos products age and wear or are disturbed in some way, like a home renovation, toxic fibers may become airborne and lead to dangerous exposure. Fortunately, each state has certified asbestos professionals who can test for the presence of asbestos in the home and take action to remove the mineral safely, known as asbestos abatement. Understanding asbestos abatement procedures can help home and building owners ensure the mineral is handled and cleaned up properly.

Starting with an Asbestos Inspection

Asbestos was considered a miracle mineral for centuries because of its durability and heat resistance, making it the perfect material for so many construction needs. Fortunately, simply living in an older house does not mean immediate danger. Asbestos is technically safe as long as it’s intact and not damaged in some way.

Before any renovation projects begin, it’s a good idea to find an asbestos inspector to examine the potential construction area and any other areas of concern in the home, like any crumbling or cracking walls. Such projects or general wear-and-tear could mean damage to any asbestos present in the home. If the dangerous fibers release into the air, your family, as well as any workers involved in the renovation, could potentially be exposed.

A certified asbestos inspector will be able to perform a visual inspection of the home, as well as carefully take some samples of any suspected materials for testing. If they find asbestos is present, the inspector should provide you with a written evaluation that details where the mineral can be found and its extent in the home.

Additionally, the asbestos inspector can make recommendations for how to correct the situation or prevent damage to any so far undisturbed asbestos. If corrections in the form of abatement (complete removal of the materials containing asbestos) or encapsulation (fully covering and sealing off asbestos materials) are necessary, an asbestos inspector can return after the work is done to ensure the area has been properly cleaned and is not a danger.

Learn More about the Health Risks of Asbestos Exposure

Finding Asbestos Abatement Contractors

There are strict laws, federally and at the state level, for how asbestos must be removed and disposed of because of the dangers of exposure. Each state has its own department or local board that oversees the licensing and certification of asbestos professionals to ensure all regulations are abided by. Though it differs by state, the certification process is often overseen by an air quality board or the state’s environmental health department.

Generally, to become a certified asbestos abatement professional – or even an asbestos inspector – the person must go through an EPA-approved training course and pass the certification exam. Certain states will also have their own requirements, whether it’s additional training or their own state-level exam. Asbestos professionals must also take annual refresher courses to ensure they’re still following all the proper regulations.

Since these state agencies oversee the certification process, they’re the best resource for finding any asbestos professionals who have gone through the proper training procedures. Most of these agencies will provide a list of the professionals in your area who meet the appropriate federal and state-level certification requirements. As a further check on any asbestos removal companies, you can also check with the Better Business Bureau to see if they have ever received any safety violations.

Supplemental Reading
  • State Asbestos Contacts: Find the environmental contacts for your state to help locate certified asbestos abatement professionals.
  • Asbestos Abatement Certification: Learn more about the requirements for professionals to become certified to ensure safe asbestos removal in your home.
  • Asbestos Abatement Regulations: Discover more information around the roles of asbestos professionals and the rules they must follow for proper asbestos handling.

Asbestos Abatement Process

Once you have found an asbestos abatement company certified by your state agency, being aware of the actual asbestos removal process can further ensure the mineral is handled according to the regulations in place.

Knowing the plan: Before any work actually begins, you should receive a written contract that details the company’s plans, including cleanup and an explanation of all the federal, state and local regulations they must abide by. These laws will include the notification requirements for the local agencies, as well as the procedures for removal, transport and disposal.

Proper demarcation: As the removal or encapsulation goes underway, the site should be clearly marked as a hazardous area. No household occupants, including pets, should be allowed in or around the area. The area should be completely sealed off from the rest of the house with plastic sheets. To avoid any fibers from potentially spreading to other rooms, the contractors should also shut off the heating and air conditioning system.

Handling asbestos waste: Workers should never break any removed materials into smaller pieces for easier cleanup, as that would release dangerous fibers into the air. All asbestos materials should actually be wet down during removal and cleanup, as that keeps any loose fibers from spreading or becoming airborne.

Cleanup procedures: The worksite itself should always remain clean and free of any visible debris. For cleanup, all asbestos-containing materials must be properly sealed and labeled in heavy-duty plastic bags, as well as any clothing the workers wear and any equipment used. This prevents contamination of other areas of the house. The area should be thoroughly cleaned with wet mops and rags and only HEPA vacuums, as regular vacuums could spread any lingering asbestos dust.

Upon completion, you should receive another written record that explains the work that was done and that proper procedures were followed. At this time, you may also consider having an asbestos inspector return to re-evaluate the area and ensure the threat is entirely gone.

Knowing the proper procedures and understanding your rights can protect you and your family from dangerous asbestos exposure throughout the abatement process. Take the time to find licensed professionals in your area that will take care to safely remove the toxin. Following the proper laws not only protects you and your loved ones but also protects the larger community from the risk of improper disposal.

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Written By

Tonya Nelson

Managing Editor

Tonya Nelson is an experienced writer and editor, who has published on a wide variety of topics, particularly in the health field.