Recent Articles

Asbestos Exposure in the Home: Risk, Removal, and Remodeling

Written By Jennifer Karami on June 12th, 2019


Many people are alarmed to learn that their house may contain asbestos. Asbestos exposure has been linked to lung cancer and mesothelioma – particularly in construction workers and manufacturers, who were frequently exposed to it on the job. Most Americans will spend at least one-third of their time every day inside their home – that is a lot of time to be breathing air that could potentially make you sick.

Most often, people want to know where asbestos is found and the potential risks of having asbestos in the home. Here’s what you need to know about asbestos if you are a home buyer, seller, or remodeler.

Where is Asbestos Found?

Asbestos is a mineral that is mined from the earth. It has natural properties that make it an excellent and inexpensive fire retardant. As such, it was added to many building products to make them perform better with peak use between the 1940s through the 1970s.

Common building materials that contain asbestos include but are not limited to:

  • Insulation (vermiculite)
  • Shingles
  • Old cement siding
  • 9”x9” floor tiles
  • Acoustic ceiling tiles
  • White tape on heating ducts
  • Insulation on boiler pipes and boilers
  • Popcorn ceiling texture
  • Glues used under flooring

Some materials are more dangerous than others. One such material is vermiculite insulation. This loose insulation, often in your attic, looks like small rocks or bits of mica. Much of this insulation came from a mine in Libby Montana and the vermiculite was contaminated with asbestos. This material can aerosolize easily, exposing workers or occupants to the harmful effects. In addition, tests to verify the presence of asbestos in vermiculite have proven unreliable. It is best to assume this product contains asbestos and consider having it remediated by a professional to reduce risks of exposure.

old houses can contain asbestos

Why is Asbestos Bad?

Asbestos is bad for human health when the tiny abrasive fibers are inhaled into the lungs, where they can damage the tissue. Over time, asbestos inhalation can lead to asbestosis (a lung disease), cancer, and mesothelioma – an aggressive form of cancer that affects the lungs, heart, and abdomen.

It’s important to understand a few basic concepts about asbestos-containing materials in your house.

If the building material in question is not damaged or “friable,” then the asbestos fibers will not be able to “aerosolize” or become air-borne particulate. The asbestos will be encapsulated in the building material and will not pose a health hazard. For this reason, most old houses do not pose an asbestos-related health hazard to the occupants living there. If the asbestos fibers are not likely to become airborne, then the area is considered safe.

How do I Know if I Have Asbestos in My House?

If you are buying a house older than 1980, you can assume it probably contains at least some asbestos. If your old house is in good condition and you are not planning any renovation work, you probably do not need to test for asbestos. You may want to perform an inspection to look for damaged materials which may contain asbestos and have these remediated or encapsulated – especially if you have some reasons for concern like visibly damaged pipe insulation or old building materials.

However, your risks of exposure are much greater if you are remodeling an old house. Then, you should have a thorough evaluation done by a professional prior to demolition. You can hire an industrial hygienist or an environmental lab to perform an evaluation of the house. These contractors follow a thorough testing protocol and will often take more than a dozen samples from the building. Once you have the results you should know what materials contain asbestos and most labs will also provide a protocol for remediating (safely removing) these materials.

 

Get local insights at a free Redfin class

 

Does a Home Seller have to Disclose Asbestos?

Most states don’t require single-family homeowners test for asbestos prior to selling their home. However, if you knowingly sell a home with asbestos without disclosing that information to the buyer, you could be held liable for health-related damages in the future. It is best to check your local regulations as these laws vary by state.

Is Asbestos Identification Included in a Home Inspection?

Since the home inspection is a visual, non-invasive inspection of the home, it is not possible for a home inspector to properly identify the presence of asbestos. Many home inspectors will report on the presence of building materials that are likely to contain asbestos. This should not be confused with a complete asbestos identification inspection, which is much more comprehensive.

A complete asbestos evaluation often involves destructive testing where samples are drilled, scraped or pried from the building. You would need permission from a homeowner if you were doing this prior to purchasing a house and such permission may not be granted. Home inspectors are not allowed to damage the buildings they are inspecting, so there is generally no practical way to inspect for asbestos-containing materials in a comprehensive way as a part of a pre-purchase home inspection. This is another reason why asbestos evaluation is often not done as a part of pre-purchase due diligence.

insulation containing asbestos

Is it Legal to Remodel a Home with Asbestos?

The biggest risk posed by asbestos is during a remodel or renovation to an old house. This is when the asbestos-containing materials get damaged and aerosolized, and people working or living in the house are at risk of exposure.

Laws regarding asbestos will vary by state but many states will require:

  • Homeowners to test for asbestos prior to any construction or renovation project
  • Contractors to obtain a written asbestos report from a building owner prior to work
  • Asbestos remediation to be done by licensed abatement contractors prior to starting demolition work
  • Asbestos-containing materials are disposed of in special bins for hazardous waste

If you are planning to renovate a fixer-upper, you should have a budget for lead and asbestos identification and remediation. If you have time to do this evaluation before buying the house, that is great. The more data up front, the better. In hot markets, home buyers often have very limited time to complete their inspections so many buyers proceed with the logical assumption that the building contains asbestos and they will need to tackle it prior to renovation.

If you suspect asbestos in your home, don’t panic. Many houses built in the 1900s contain some level of asbestos, and it is generally safe to live in them if you won’t be doing any serious construction. If you are planning a remodel, you’ll need to check your local laws and hire the right professionals to assess the home and dispose of the waste correctly. An informed buyer is a happy buyer, and knowing the facts about asbestos will help keep you and your loved ones safe.

 

Jennifer Karami

Jennifer enjoys writing about the intersection of real estate and technology. Her dream home would be a mid-century modern desert oasis with a pool for lounging.

 Email Jennifer

Asbestos-Containing Products Still Manufactured Today

Throughout the past century, asbestos had been manufacturers’ favorite material, with more than 4.000 products containing the mineral at the time. By World War II, asbestos-containing materials were found in American ships, planes, vehicles, factories, hospitals, schools and homes across the nation. Later on, asbestos showed up in products everywhere, from fireproofing and fire prevention materials to drug store cosmetic counters.

Asbestos and health risks

There is mounting evidence showing that asbestos-containing products have been responsible for a number of asbestos exposure incidences. According to the EPA and the Department of Health and Human Services, there is no safe level of exposure to asbestos. Inhalation of airborne small fiber-like particles is detrimental to human health, already being demonstrated that all forms of asbestos are carcinogenic to humans. Epidemiological studies have shown that exposure to asbestos may cause a number of severe lung diseases, some even fatal. Lung cancer causes the largest number of deaths related to asbestos exposure, around 4,800 deaths per year. Asbestosis, another primary disease associated with asbestos exposure, is a non-cancerous respiratory disease usually disabling or fatal. Evidence suggests that cancers in the esophagus, larynx, stomach, colon, ovaries, prostate, and kidney can also be caused by asbestos exposure.

Past attempts to ban asbestos

The fight to ban asbestos in the U.S. has been a long journey. In the second half of the 20th century, American health authorities became aware that asbestos is carcinogenic. In the coming decades, asbestos seemed to resist U.S. legislation.

  • The Clean Air Act of 1970 classified asbestos as a dangerous air pollutant and gave the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency authority to set regulations on the use, management and removal of asbestos
  • In 1973, EPA bans the use of spray-applied surfacing asbestos-containing material for fireproofing and insulation materials. In the following years, EPA also forbade the use of asbestos from more products, including wall patching compounds, artificial fireplace embers, boilers, hot water tanks, boilers.
  • The Toxic Substances Control Act of 1976 authorized EPA to force asbestos producers and users to control packaging, handling, storing and disposing of asbestos-containing materials. The regulation was withdrawn in only two years, lifting the initial ban on asbestos products.
  • In 1989, the EPA issued the Asbestos Ban and Phase-Out Rule which planned to impose a full ban on the manufacturing, importation, processing and sale of asbestos-containing products. The regulation has been criticized and pointed to job loss and economic consequences. Although the ABPR remains the best attempt at a federal ban of asbestos, the legislation was short-lived due to the counterattack from the asbestos industry.

Is asbestos likely to be banned in the near future?

Asbestos is still not banned in the U.S. Unfortunately, the use of this toxic mineral in all asbestos-containing products marketed before 1989 is still legal and continues to pose immense risks. Furthermore, asbestos-containing products continue to be manufactured even today.

In 2018, EPA released a significant new rule proposal (SNUR) which would allow the agency to prevent new uses of asbestos-containing products. The SNUR, a mechanism within the Toxic Substances Control Act, requires manufacturers to notify the EPA before asbestos is used in ways that might create concerns.

Potential new uses for asbestos subject to SNUR:

  • Arc chutes
  • Beater-add gaskets
  • Extruded sealant tape and other tapes
  • Filler for acetylene cylinders
  • High-grade electrical paper
  • Millboard
  • Missile liner
  • Adhesives, sealants and roof and non-roof coatings
  • Pipeline wrap
  • Reinforced plastics
  • Roofing felt
  • Separators in fuel cells and batteries
  • Vinyl asbestos floor tile
  • Other building materials

Critics of the proposed rule say that the agency’s actions aren’t as protective as they should be despite an apparent increase in regulation. Health advocates maintained that this rule can lead to more cases of asbestos exposure.

No safe exposure

Despite knowing its harmful aftereffect, asbestos is still used in some U.S. industries. There is a wide range of prominent sectors using asbestos products today, including:

  • Consumer product manufacturing
  • Residential, commercial and industrial construction
  • Automotive and heavy equipment manufacturers
  • Aircraft and aerospace construction
  • Shipbuilding and ship repairing

Risks of existing asbestos

Asbestos was used in almost every public and commercial building constructed before the 1980s in the U.S.  Asbestos could be in any part of a building, from floor tiles to rook sheets, toilet seats to wall panels. Working in and around these buildings presents a risk of asbestos exposure for homeowners and professional tradespeople.  Persons who intentionally or unwittingly disturb asbestos-containing materials can cause asbestos fibers to be released into the air, putting anyone who inhales these fibers at risk of developing debilitating asbestos-related diseases. People who renovate or demolish buildings that contain asbestos may be at significant risk, depending on the nature of the exposure and precautions taken.  Due to the significant risks associated with unlicensed asbestos removal, it is recommended to contact a certified company to help you remove asbestos-containing materials in a safe manner.

About the author:

Gregory A. Cade is the principal attorney at Environmental Litigation Group P.C., a reliable law firm focused solely on asbestos exposure cases. His expertise and reputation in these cases derive from a successful track record that spans more than two decades. Gregory A. Cade work consists in representing injured victims and their families with the purpose of obtaining substantial recoveries.

WA State Asbestos Notification Requirements

WAC 296-65-020

Notification requirements.

(1) Before any person or individual begins an asbestos project as defined in WAC 296-62-07722 and 296-65-003 involving more than forty-eight square feet or ten linear feet, unless the surface area of the pipe is greater than forty-eight square feet, of asbestos-containing material, written notification must be provided to the department. Notices must include:
(a) Name and address of the owner and contractor.
(b) Description of the facility including size, age, and prior use of the facility.
(c) Amount of asbestos-containing material to be removed or encapsulated.
(d) Location of the facility.
(e) Exact starting and completion dates of the asbestos project, including shifts during which abatement work will be accomplished. These dates must correspond to the dates specified for asbestos removal in the contract. Any change in these dates or work shifts must be communicated to the department by an amended notice filed at the office where the original notice was filed.
• When the starting date or time changes, the amended notice must be filed no later than 5:00 p.m. on the business day prior to the starting date in the original notice and prior to the new starting date.
• When the completion date or time changes, the amended notice must be filed before completion of the project, and within eight hours from when the person learns that the change will occur.
Notice may be filed by facsimile (fax).
(f) Nature of the project and methods used to remove or encapsulate the material.
(2) Notices must be received by the department no later than ten days prior to the start of the project. Notices must be sent directly to the department of labor and industries regional office having jurisdiction on the project.
(3) The director may waive the prenotification requirement upon written request of an owner for large-scale, on-going projects. In granting such a waiver, the director will require the owner to provide prenotification if significant changes in personnel, methodologies, equipment, work site, or work procedures occur or are likely to occur. The director will further require annual resubmittal of such notification.
(4) The director, upon review of an owner's reports, work practices, or other data available as a result of inspections, audits, or other authorized activities, may reduce the size threshold for prenotification required by this section. Such a change will be based on the director's determination that significant problems in personnel, methodologies, equipment, work site, or work procedures are creating the potential for violations of this chapter.
(5) Emergency projects which disturb or release asbestos into the air must be reported to the department within three working days after commencement of the project in the manner otherwise required under this chapter. The employees, the employees' collective bargaining representative or employee representative, if any, and other persons at the project area must be notified of the emergency as soon as possible by the person undertaking the emergency project. A notice describing the nature of the emergency project must be clearly posted adjacent to the work area.
(6) Incremental phasing in the conduct or design of asbestos projects or otherwise conducting or designing asbestos projects of a size less than the threshold exemption specified in subsection (1) of this section, with the intent of avoiding the notification requirements, is a violation of this chapter.

 

Puget Sound Clean Air

 

Renovating your rental property or condominium, or demolishing your house, you must hire an AHERA-certified building inspector to perform the survey. 

 

A. Leave it alone. Asbestos becomes a health risk if it is disturbed or deteriorating and fibers are released into the air. It may be possible to work around the asbestos during the renovation without disturbing it.

B. Repair or encapsulate. You may re-seal or encapsulate the asbestos in its location and without notifying our agency if it is not disturbed.

C. Remove It. If you are renovating your rental property or condominium, or are a renter, you must hire a certified asbestos abatement contractor to remove the asbestos.

If you decide to remove the asbestos yourself (Homeowners), you must:

1) File an Asbestos/Demolition Notification. Before you remove friable asbestos-containing material from the structure, you a PSClean Air notification along with a $30 filing fee

 

Clean Air Agencies:

 

Vermiculite Asbestos Attic Insulation

What Is It?

If you have never seen vermiculite insulating an attic, you may have seen it in potting soil. Vermiculite is a naturally occurring mineral worldwide. When heated rapidly to high temperatures, this crystalline mineral expands into low density, accordion-like, golden brown strands. In fact, its worm-like shape is what gives vermiculite its name. The worms are broken into rectangular chunks about the size of the eraser on the end of a pencil. In addition to being light, vermiculite chunks are also absorbent and fire retardant. These characteristics make it great as an additive, for example to potting soil. It also makes a good insulating material.

 

Where Was It Used?

Sold under various brand names, such as Zonolite Attic Insulation, the insulation came in big bags. Thousands of homeowners simply opened the bags and poured the vermiculite onto their attic floor and sometimes down exterior walls. It was generally not used in new construction.

When Was It Used?

Worldwide, vermiculite has been used in various industries as long ago as 1920. With the upsurge in home ownership during the baby boom, vermiculite insulation was a popular material in the 1950’s, and continued with the energy crisis into the late 1970’s. In Canada, it was one of the insulating materials allowed under the Canadian Home Insulation Program from about 1976 to the mid-1980’s. The CHIP program provided grants to homeowners to increase insulation levels, reducing energy consumption.

What Is The Problem?

The majority of the vermiculite used worldwide was from a mine in Libby, Montana, owned and operated since 1963 by W.R. Grace. The mine was closed in 1990. As well as being rich in vermiculite, this mine had the misfortune of having a deposit of tremolite, a type of asbestos. When the vermiculite was extracted, some tremolite came in with the mix.

For Canadian use, the raw product from the Libby mine was shipped to Grace subsidiary F. Hyde processing plants in Montreal, St. Thomas, Ajax and Toronto, and Grant Industries in western Canada. At these plants, it was processed and sold as Zonolite.

What Is The Risk?

Asbestos minerals tend to separate into microscopic particles that become airborne and are easily inhaled. People exposed to asbestos in the workplace have developed several types of life-threatening diseases, including lung cancer. Workers in and around the Libby mine developed serious health problems.
Like any hazards, length and intensity of exposure are major factors in the risk of asbestos-related respiratory illness. To assess the risk of asbestos exposure at a house, a sample of the vermiculite would need to be analyzed by a lab. Since most of the vermiculite used in Canada was taken from the Libby mine, the odds are quite good that there is asbestos in the vermiculite in Canadian attics.

The good news is that we don’t live in our attics. In addition, as long as it is undisturbed, neither the asbestos fibers bound up in the vermiculite chunks nor the dust will be released into the air. According to the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health in the U.S., “Most people who get asbestos-related diseases have been exposed to high levels of asbestos for a long time.” Lastly, most of the time the air in your house flows from the house into the attic, rather than into the house from the attic.

The bottom line is, like most household products that may contain asbestos, and there are many, doing nothing is often the best approach. Naturally, the risk of exposure increases with the amount of time spent in the attic.

Recommendations

If the attic or walls of a house contain vermiculite insulation, leave it alone. Avoid disturbing the material. Do not sweep it or vacuum it up. Do not store belongings in the attic.

If work is planned that involves these areas, for example installing potlights in a room below the attic, send a sample of the vermiculite to a private lab. Send several samples, and use a lab specializing in asbestos analysis. If it is found to contain asbestos, or if you just assume it does, precautions should be taken. The safest approach would be to have the insulation in the affected areas removed by a qualified environmental contractor.

For smaller jobs it may be sufficient to isolate work areas with temporary barriers or enclosures to avoid spreading fibers, use disposable protective clothing, and use proper respiratory protection. An important note – disposable respirators or dust masks are not appropriate for asbestos. Again, it is best to consult a qualified contractor.

EPA considers ALL Vermiculite insulation to be a contaminate.

Remodeling and Asbestos Testing Requirements

In the State of Washington all remodeling projects that may disturb materials that could contain Asbestos require an AHERA inspection.

Before authorizing or allowing any construction, renovation, remodeling, maintenance, repair, or demolition project, an owner or owner's agent must perform, or cause to be performed, a good faith inspection to determine whether materials to be worked on or removed contain asbestos. The inspection must be documented by a written report maintained on file and made available upon request to the director.

(A) The good faith inspection must be conducted by an accredited inspector.

(B) Such good faith inspection is not required if the owner or owner's agent is reasonably certain that asbestos will not be disturbed by the project or the owner or owner's agent assumes that the suspect material contains asbestos and handles the material in accordance with WAC 296-62-07701 through 296-62-07753.

(iii) The owner or owner's agent must provide, to all contractors submitting a bid to undertake any construction, renovation, remodeling, maintenance, repair, or demolition project, the written statement either of the reasonable certainty of nondisturbance of asbestos or of assumption of the presence of asbestos. Contractors must be provided with the written report before they apply or bid to work. (iv) Any owner or owner's agent who fails to comply with (c)(ii) and (iii) of this subsection must be subject to a mandatory fine of not less than two hundred fifty dollars for each violation. Each day the violation continues must be considered a separate violation. In addition, any construction, renovation, remodeling, maintenance, repair, or demolition which was started without meeting the requirements of this section must be halted immediately and cannot be resumed before meeting such requirements.

Basically Washington State LNI , requires anyone doing remodeling to identify any asbestos that could be impacted. You can assume suspect materials are asbestos and treat them accordingly; if your certain that no asbestos is present (with testing) or will be disturbed, you can prepare a written statement of non-disturbance; sample suspect materials following AHERA sampling protocol as listed below (40 CFR 763.86).

Q: Is the only way to be certain that Asbestos is present or not present is to have lab testing?

Pretty much, but if you have a project that is only going to impact wood 2x4’s, plywood, glass, and aluminum (as an example), you know none of those are suspect ACM, so you can create a written statement of the reasonable certainty of non-disturbance. If there are materials that COULD contain asbestos that could be impacted during a project, then you must either assume they DO contain asbestos, or sample them and send them in for lab analysis.

 

Types of Asbestos

There are a set of 6 fibrous minerals that are collectively known as asbestos. These include chrysotile, amosite, crocidolite, tremolite, anthophyllite and actinolite. Asbestos is often also referred to by its colour, such as white, blue or brown asbestos. The different types of asbestos are:

  • Chrysotile – The most commonly used type of asbestos, Chrysotile is also commonly referred to as white asbestos. It is the only asbestos in the serpentine family, and its fibres have a curly structure. It was used in a range of materials, including gaskets, brake pads, roofing materials, cement and insulation.
  • Amosite – Like the remaining types asbestos, amosite is part of the amphibole family. It is also commonly referred to as brown asbestos. It was used in thermal, plumbing, chemical and electrical insulation, as well as cement sheets, lagging, tiles and insulation boards.
  • Crocidolite – This asbestos has the thinnest fibres, which makes it readily airborne and easy to inhale. Crocidolite is also often referred to as blue asbestos, and was commonly used in ceiling tiles, fire protection, water encasement and spray on insulation. This form of asbestos is far more brittle than other types, which can result in decaying materials and the release of fibres.
  • Tremolite – This type of asbestos is strong, flexible and heat resistant. It can be woven into cloth, where it was used to create fireproof clothing. It was also used in paints, sealants and roofing materials.
  • Anthophyllite – This type of asbestos is one of the rarest, which has resulted in limited use. It has been used in products containing minerals, such as talcum powder. Whilst it has still been linked to asbestos related diseases, it is amongst the least hazardous of all the types.
  • Actinolite – This type of asbestos was found in numerous forms, ranging from brittle to fibrous. It was used in fire proofing, gardening, insulation and concrete. It has also been found in drywall and children’s toys.

We service Ocean Shores, Aberdeen, Olympia, West Port,  Federal Way, Seattle, Bellevue, Kirkland, Redmond, Issaquah and other areas in State of Washington.