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Asbestos is a naturally occurring mineral composed of thin, tightly packed fibers. Due to its strength, asbestos used to be commonly used in the manufacturing of insulation, fireproofing, and other construction materials. Unfortunately, asbestos has been found to pose a serious health risk when its fibers become loose and airborne, since breathing them in can cause scarring of the tissue lining the lungs (mesothelioma) and even lung cancer. You can check for signs of asbestos on your own, but testing should be done by a certified professional using special equipment. .
Asbestos was widely used between 1920 and 1989, after which the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) began regulating materials containing asbestos.
Asbestos can most commonly be found in buildings, but also in gas heaters, hair dryers, some clothing and automotive brakes.
Walls, flooring, pipes, textured paints, insulation, fireproofing materials, pipes, electric wiring, and even chalkboards constructed between 1920 and 1989 may contain asbestos.
If the building was constructed between 1920 and 1989, chances are something in the building was constructed with materials containing asbestos.
1. Determine when the building in question was constructed
You can't tell whether an item contains asbestos just by looking at it. Instead, look for warning signs that construction materials are degrading.
Asbestos isn't dangerous when it's still in good condition, but when it starts to break down and the fibers are released in the air, it becomes toxic. Look for signs of older materials that have become worn out or damaged.
Disintegrating pipes, insulation, walls, tiles, vinyl flooring, stovetop pads, and other older materials that have been present in the building since its construction are signs to look out for.
Look for cracks, dusty areas and spots where the material seems to be in the process of breaking down and falling apart.
2. See if there are signs of disturbed asbestos materials
3. Checking for Signs of Asbestos
Decide whether to get the area tested. If you don't see signs of construction materials degrading, you might not need to get the area tested, since asbestos is only dangerous when it becomes airborne. However, if you do see signs of degrading materials, or if you simply want to err on the side of safety, you should opt to get the area tested by an independent professional who has been certified to test for and handle asbestos safely.
Another scenario in which you might want to get the area tested is if you plan to do new construction work or replace old materials. Even if the materials are still in good shape, they'll get disturbed during the construction process and may release fibers into the air.
While you could purchase the equipment required to conduct asbestos testing, it is not recommended that you try this on your own. Asbestos testing should be conducted by someone who has gone through training and knows how to handle the material without causing a health hazard for the occupants of the building. If you haven't been trained, you could end up disturbing the asbestos and breathing it in or putting other people at risk of doing so.
Contact an independent Inspector who is trained in collecting and handling suspected asbestos particles. These particles will have to be sent to an EPA Certified Asbestos Laboratory to be analyzed. An independent inspector is someone independent of the Asbestos Remediating Contractor so there is no potential conflict of interest.The inspector will fill out the necessary paperwork required by the laboratory.
4. Hire a contractor to do the testing
5. After determining that asbestos exist
The EPA has provided a list of certified contractors by state at
Federal law does not require asbestos testing done in single-family, detached homes to be conducted by an accredited professional, although some individual states require it.
When you hire an independent Asbestos inspector to come to your house to test for asbestos, a certain protocol will be followed to maximize safety. Anyone in the room at the time of testing should put on protective clothing and gear, including protective gloves, boots, and clothes which can be disposed of after collecting samples, and a face mask including a HEPA (High Efficiency Particulate Air) filter.
The contractor will probably use the following testing method:
1. Plastic sheeting will be laid sheeting below the area where samples will be taken and secured with tape.
2. The area to be tested will be sprayed with water to keep loose fibers from getting in the air.
3. A tool is used to cut into the substance to be tested to get a sample of fibers.
4. A small sample of the material which might be or contain asbestos is placed in a sealable container to be sent to a lab for testing.
5. The area where the sample was taken is patched with plastic sheet, drywall, or tape to prevent suspected fibers from spreading.
6. Protective gear clothing contaminated by the material is placed in a sealed container to be disposed of properly
6. Understand the testing procedure.
The material sample should be sent to an asbestos analysis lab accredited by the National Voluntary Laboratory Accreditation Program (NVLAP) at the National Institute of Standards and technology (NIST). A list of laboratories is available at
Wait for test results
If the sample tests positive for asbestos, you'll need to decide whether to repair the area or remove the materials that contain asbestos from the property.