Is your home contaminated with asbestos?

Asbestos is a mineral fiber that has been used commonly in a variety of building construction materials for insulation and as a fire-retardant.

Today, asbestos is most commonly found in older homes- a particular date is hard because asbestos issues were dealt with in parts over the decades. For example, asbestos was in sheetrock joint  compound until removed by manufacturers in 1980.

But the existing compound in the pipelines, that sat in warehouses, that sat in the contractors warehouse- I am sure there were great deals on the old stuff before it went off the shelves and out of the system- so therefore it is impossible to say exactly when the last house was sheetrocked with mud containing asbestos. So someone comes along and starts sanding and refinishing, cutting and sawing, and there is asbestos in the air. And there is no immediate feedback. The fibers cannot be seen and the disease may not manifest for 40 years… Mesothelioma can have a long latency…

You can can find asbestos in insulation on old pipes and in old furnaces as insulation and in millboard used to insulate walls from heat sources. Old asbestos roofing shingles might be hanging around under an old remodel, but are fine, if they are left undisturbed. Some loose fill [vermiculite] insulation in the attic can have asbestos in it. Vermiculite loose fill insulation is something you need to avoid- not touching, not working in, not moving around- if you have it.

Are you concerned you might have vermiculite insulation - here is an image

Vermiculite is a naturally-occurring mineral composed of shiny flakesthat have been expanded by heat from 8 – 20 times their original size. These expanded flakes have insulation properties as well as not flammable and used as insulation for attics and walls.

Vermiculite comes from the Libby mine in Montana, and they discovered the verminulite was contaminated with asbestos. So if you have vermiculite insulation, just assume you have some asbestos in the mix.

 Do you have vermiculite insulation? We need to be able to identify vermiculite.

Vermiculite insulation is a pebble-like, pour-in product and is usually gray-brown or silver-gold in color. The following photographs show typical vermiculite insulation.

vermiculite insulation shows distinct shapes

vermiculite insulation shows distinct shapes

another view of vermiculite

another view of vermiculite

Just so you do not confuse them with cellulose loose fill insulation, here is an image of cellulose insulation. Cellulose looks more like newsprint. It can be bright white too.

A view of cellulose insulation for contrast.

A view of cellulose insulation for contrast.

Sizes of vermiculite products range from very fine particles to large (coarse) pieces nearly an inch long.

 What is the suggested protocol for dealing with vermiculite insulation?

If you have vermiculite insulation, you should assume it contains asbestos and just leave it along. Do not disturb it. Any disturbance could potentially release asbestos fibers into the air. If you absolutely have to go in your attic and it contains vermiculite insulation, you should limit the number of trips you make and shorten the length of those trips in order to help limit your potential exposure. And stay away from the vermiculite.

Here are further recommendations:
  • Leave vermiculite insulation undisturbed in your attic or in your walls.
  • Do not store boxes or other items in your attic if it contains vermiculite insulation.
  • Do not allow children to play in an attic with vermiculite insulation.
  • Do not attempt to remove the insulation yourself.
  • Hire a professional asbestos contractor if you plan to remodel or conduct renovations that would disturb the vermiculite in your attic or walls to make sure the material is safely handled and/or removed.

Asbestos was used in textured paints and other coating materials, and floor tiles. Be wary what you starting sanding on and refinishing around the house. Digging down to see if you have a hardwood floor? be wary of tile you run into.

Over the decades, it has been progressively removed from circulation, but in the right older home, in the right circumstances, asbestos can be there tucked away, and maybe is a loose and crumbly form where the asbestos fibers can be released into the air.

People in the past could have tried to remove asbestos and this is not good. Understand that the dangerous fibers cannot be seen, Signs of something removed and messed with to remove it – is not a good sign. Removing the chunks without proper procedures leaves  behind asbestos fiber in the layer of dust you see. and live with.

You cannot see the fibers, and they can waft about if disturbed. You do not have to experience long exposure for a problem. It takes decades for a health problem to become apparent and a diagnosis made.

Most often these materials are solid and fine where they are- if they are undisturbed. You do not want them exposed to traffic. You do not want them cut on, sanded, torn back or hammered on or adjusted, or built around… they are brittle and break up and release fibers you do not see that can cause great harm.

What Should You Watch Out for?

If you have an older home, and you are thinking of doing some remodeling, you might want to consider finding a certified and licensed inspector of asbestos in homes and talk to them.

As a homeowner, you are exempt from laws regulating the renovation or demolition of  public buildings which require an asbestos assessment before work begins.

Certified professionals in Texas are licensed to test for, verify and remove asbestos from homes. Your remodeling contractor might talk to you about asbestos risks but be aware they might be soft spoken about anything that might prevent the exchange of money for services. There is no specific legislation in Texas that holds a contractor liable for asbestos showing up during a remodel or later.  Asbestos in not something to take lightly. It is dangerous and can kill decades later.

If you are planning on doing DIY work around  the house, sanding, painting, remodeling, getting out the tool box and moving a stud wall, well this is the time to determine your level of risk for asbestos. Poking around in attics is a risk zone.

If you are poking around at something else and spot something you suspect is asbestos, take a picture of what you are looking at and ask around. Do not disturb. Describe what the material is associated with and where you found it. Unless someone can confirm for you something totally innocent, be cautious and investigate further.

How big a risk are you running here?

Thre is no known safe level of asbestos. It is not possible to say whether your exposure may result in disease. Exposure to asbestos increases your risk of developing lung diseases including asbestosis, lung cancer, or mesothelioma, and disease may not occur until decades after exposure. The risk of disease increases as the level, duration, and frequency of exposure increases. That risk is made worse by smoking.

The biggest problems of exposure to asbestos in Texas are related to work environments and 2nd hand exposure is big factor

A diverse and wide ranging industrial processes made products with asbestos and a great many industrial, schools, public buildings and even churches maintenance and pant engineering roles were exposed to asbestos. great numbers of veterans were exposed as steam lines in ships were insulated with asbestos. Anywhere there is process heat involved, there is likely asbestos around. Asbestos is still used today. It has not been been completely, yet it is the largest industrial cause of cancer in America.

There are many places in Texas that you can get mixed up in asbestos, and many of them are right here in Fort Worth and Dallas and across North Texas.

A huge second dimension to this exposure problem is and has been 2nd hand exposure- wives and children handling a husband or father’s work clothes where the fibers are caught up in the clothing and then becoming air borne and impacting the family members. you probably need to read Heather’s story and meet heather.
Here are links to companies associated with asbestos in Texas and in Fort Worth and Dallas.

Maybe you have not grown up in Texas but have moved towards better weather from parts north- many of you are from the industriall belt of the mid-west. But it does not matter where you are from- it matters what you did there. Asbestos exposure is all over America and the latency can be decades before disease shows symptoms. You can use these two links to track down exposure to asbestos in any state.

If you are concerned about possible exposure, talk to your doctor and consider consulting a physician who specializes in lung diseases, also known as a pulmonologist. For more information on asbestos-related diseases see the Agency for Toxic Substances & Disease Registry Web site.