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What Is Asbestos? Where Can It Be Found?

Asbestos is a naturally occurring fibrous mineral that requires analysis under a microscope for positive identification. In the past, asbestos was mined and used for fireproofing, insulation, and in the strengthening of materials among other things. It was highly effective and widely used in home construction from the 1930s to the 1970s.

Since then, we now know that exposure to and the inhalation of asbestos fibers can lead to an increased risk of lung cancer. These can present as mesothelioma, a cancer of the lining of the chest and abdominal cavity. Another form is asbestosis, where the lungs become scarred with fibrous tissue. Risks of lung cancer or mesothelioma increase with the number of fibers inhaled. Risk is also increased with smoking. Most people with minor exposure do not develop these health conditions.

If your home was built before the end of the 1970s it is important to know where asbestos containing materials can be found. It's also important to note that having asbestos in the home is not necessarily an immediate reason for alarm. As long as materials are in good condition, no crumbling, cracks, water damage or risk of disturbance, there should be no danger in the release of asbestos fibers and the material can generally be left alone.

Asbestos in the home can most commonly be found in many areas including:

  • Roofing and siding shingles

  • Insulation used for pipes, ducts, furnaces, or attics and basements

  • Textured paint and patching compounds

  • Cement

  • Walls and floors around wood-burning stoves may be protected with asbestos paper, millboard or cement sheets

  • Some vinyl floor tiles and the backing on vinyl sheet flooring, and adhesives used for installing floor tile

  • Artificial ashes and embers used in gas fireplaces

  • Door gaskets in furnaces, wood stoves and coal stoves

  • Soundproofing or decorative material sprayed on walls and ceilings

  • Older products like stove top pads, gloves, and ironing board covers

  • Automobile brake pads and linings, clutch facings and gaskets

If any of these areas appear to be damaged or you are planning a remodel and you are worried there may be asbestos present it should be inspected and tested by a qualified professional. If asbestos is identified they can provide guidance on whether the area can be covered, repaired, or if removal is necessary. Any of these abatement measures should also be done by a professional who is trained to handle asbestos.

For more help in dealing with asbestos problems in your home, check with local health, environmental or other appropriate state agencies to find out proper handling and disposal procedures.

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