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Once widely used in building construction, asbestos is known to cause an array of health problems and lifelong complications. Finding asbestos on your property can be a distressing experience, but fortunately, there are many EPA-certified asbestos abatement companies that can remove the material for you. This guide covers the answers to some of the most frequently asked questions about asbestos and its removal.
Asbestos is a naturally occurring mineral that's made of soft, flexible fibers which are resistant to electricity, heat, and corrosion. These desirable properties have led to widespread use of asbestos in the construction, manufacturing, automotive, and power industries.
Asbestos is illegal in many countries because it's a known health and safety hazard that can cause serious problems if ingested or inhaled. Some of these include lung disease, scarring, genetic damage, and mesothelioma, a type of cancer that's caused almost exclusively by exposure to asbestos.
If you think you've been exposed to asbestos, see a doctor as soon as possible. You may need a chest X-ray or CAT scan to detect potential signs of lung damage. Brief exposure to asbestos typically isn't problematic, however. Most asbestos-related conditions are caused by regular exposure over a long period of time.
Depending on its condition, asbestos may either be encapsulated with a sealant or removed. Prior to removal, the area to be worked on is sealed off to prevent contamination of other areas. Asbestos is then removed using wet cleanup materials and a class H vacuum cleaner that's suitable for highly hazardous dusts.
Removal can cost anywhere from $1,100 up to $3,000, with the typical job priced at an average of $2,000. Prices depend on factors such as the size of the job, cost of materials needed to seal the work area, labor, and disposal fees.
Asbestos removal is typically paid for by the party who owns the property. If you're a renter and think you've found asbestos on the property, contact your landlord. However, landlords generally aren't obligated to pay for removal unless the asbestos is airborne or is in danger of disintegration and becoming airborne.
In buildings, asbestos may be found in attic and wall insulation, roofing and siding shingles, floor tiles, certain oil and coal furnaces, and coatings on hot water pipes. Asbestos is also used in heat-resistant fabrics, as well as vehicle brakes and clutches.
Asbestos was widely used in construction starting around the end of the 19th century. It became popular for its insulating and fire-retardant properties, which were especially useful in homes made of wood and other flammable materials.
HEPA air purifiers can trap particles above and below 0.3 microns, while asbestos particles can measure between 0.7 and 90 microns. It's technically possible for this type of purifier to remove asbestos, but a purifier's coverage area is usually limited to one room. Additionally, purifiers can't eliminate the source of asbestos contamination, so they're not practical for complete removal.
Homeowners insurance usually doesn't pay for asbestos removal, since most policies have an exclusion for pollution. Remediation could be paid if the asbestos became exposed or disturbed due to a covered peril, such as the vandalization of walls or a tree falling on your roof. Remediation terms vary by provider and policy.
Remove all objects from the work area to prevent contamination with asbestos fibers during the process. Cover walls, floors, and items that can't be removed with thick polyethylene sheeting. Fibers can travel through vents, so seal them securely and turn off the HVAC system to reduce the risk of contaminating other rooms.
Asbestos removal technicians typically wear masks with dual-cartridge respirators to help protect against inhaling fibers as they work. Respirators must have HEPA-filtered cartridges or an R-100, P-100, or N-100 NIOSH rating, indicating that the cartridge is specifically designed to filter out asbestos fibers. Paper masks can't filter these fibers and shouldn't be used.
Technicians dispose of asbestos by wetting it and sealing it in thick plastic bags, which are then enclosed in leak-tight containers. Asbestos can't be discarded in garbage cans or regular landfills. For disposal, it must be taken to a landfill specially built to contain asbestos.
While it's possible to remove asbestos yourself, doing so can be dangerous to your health, so it's strongly recommended to hire a professional asbestos abatement company. Legally, the EPA doesn't ban property owners from removing asbestos on their own. Laws and regulations on removal vary by state, city, and county.
It's hard to tell if something contains asbestos just by looking at it, and inhaling asbestos fibers doesn't cause immediate irritation, such as coughing or sneezing. The only way to know for sure is by sending a sample of material to an EPA-certified lab for testing.
If you think a building may contain asbestos, contact a licensed testing company to verify its presence. Self-gathering asbestos samples may be banned or illegal in certain areas, so a certified technician may need to collect samples for you. If the presence of asbestos is confirmed, call a professional abatement company to seal or remove it.
Under the Asbestos Hazard Emergency Response Act (AHERA), the EPA requires all schools to be inspected for asbestos, including asbestos-contaminated vermiculite insulation, every three years. The only exception is if the builder has certified in writing that no asbestos was used in the building's construction.