Are My Pipes Wrapped in Asbestos?

June 30, 2020  |  Mesothelioma
Asbestos In Residential HVAC Systems

If you live in a home that was built before 1980, chances are your piping or ductwork is wrapped in asbestos insulation. This is especially true in parts of the country where winters are brutally cold or summers are unbearably hot.

Asbestos is a natural mineral fiber that was added to common building materials starting in the early 1900s, when it was found to offer fire-retardant, insulation and acoustical benefits. In the 1930s, however, asbestos manufacturers learned that inhalation of asbestos fibers was toxic.

Effective and Cheap – At a Price

The dangers of asbestos were discovered when corporate scientists began to report to their managers a rise in incidents of lung cancer among workers who assembled or installed products containing asbestos, thereby exposing themselves to dust from the fibrous mineral. Despite this knowledge, officials at some companies kept the information to themselves and continued to manufacture asbestos products at a robust pace. Although other insulating products were coming on the market at the time, such as fiberglass, manufacturers were determined to continue reaping tremendous profits from sales of their asbestos-containing products because the cost of asbestos was so low. They suppressed the evidence that their workers were dying.

In the 1960s, exposure to asbestos was publicly linked to health problems by a prominent epidemiologist in New York. A call was raised to ban the toxic mineral. Even then, asbestos manufacturers resisted, hiring scientists to issue reports refuting evidence of the fiber’s lethalness. It was 1978 before asbestos was eliminated from most home-building materials.

A Stealthy Killer

Exposure to asbestos is known to cause asbestosis, a potentially fatal scarring of lung tissue, as well as lung and digestive-tract cancers. It is also thought to be the sole cause of the aggressive and always fatal mesothelioma cancer. Scientists have shown that such diseases stem from inhaling the microscopic fibers of asbestos, which, because of their durability, can remain in the lungs for many years. Asbestos-related diseases can take decades to develop, typically presenting no symptoms until many years after exposure.

One of the most common places to find asbestos in a home is in the whitish, cloth-like wrapping around piping or ductwork in the basement or attic. In addition to offering excellent heat and cold preservation within ductwork and pipes, asbestos wrapping also prevented condensation on the outside of ductwork and piping, making its use very popular throughout the 1950s, 1960s and 1970s.

What If It’s In My Home

If you have asbestos insulation around your ductwork or pipes, it might be able to remain in place, so long as it is not deteriorating. However, where ductwork or pipes change shape or direction, such as at joints and corners and bends, there can be tension on the material. Eventually it will begin to fray and fall apart, especially if it has been there for many years. The greatest health risk comes when asbestos-containing material is disturbed, so removing insulation when it is in good condition may be more hazardous than leaving it alone. Never sand, saw, drill or cut asbestos insulation. Disturbing asbestos in any way releases microscopic fibers into the air where they can easily be inhaled or ingested.

The best way to find out if there is asbestos in your ductwork or pipe wrapping is to hire a professional. Experts recommend using a laboratory or an environmental consultant, neither of whom will be financially motivated to offer pricey options if asbestos is determined to be present. If asbestos is found on your ductwork or pipes, you have some choices.

If the asbestos is not crumbling or fraying, depending on the laws in your state, you might be able to leave it alone. When asbestos is not disturbed, it is unlikely to pose a risk. However, it will be important to avoid the area where the pipes or ductwork are located in order to prevent potential damage from bumping into it. Also, the wrapping must be regularly monitored for signs of deterioration.

Enclose It

If you are permitted by law to leave asbestos in place, you will want to seal off the asbestos, a process known as encapsulation. There are two types of encapsulation: a paint-like material that is coated over the asbestos wrapping, and a self-setting cement tape that is wetted, applied and then hardens like a cast. An added benefit to encapsulation is that it prevents the distribution of asbestos fibers if you ever decide to remove the pipes or ductwork completely. You’ll be able to take the piping or ductwork out, securely sealed inside its painted or taped coating. But even when encapsulated, you must beware: if your piping or ductwork is in a livable space, such as a finished attic or basement or garage, where it might be bumped by someone moving a chair or other heavy object, there is a chance that the asbestos could be disturbed even if it has been sealed.

Block It Off

If asbestos-wrapped ductwork or piping is in an area where activities will take place, you can take an additional step to protect you and your family from exposure. After sealing the asbestos wrapping in paint or cement tape, you can lessen the opportunity for inadvertent deterioration by building a “box” around it, out of drywall or metal, effectively preventing anyone from coming in contact with the ductwork or piping and its wrapping.

Where To Start

Due to the significant health risks created by releasing carcinogenic asbestos fibers into the air, experts recommend that any work with or around asbestos materials be performed by a professional contractor or licensed asbestos abatement expert. The building codes in your jurisdiction will determine what your abatement or encapsulation options are. Your local municipality will also be able to provide a list of certified experts who can test your insulation to see if it contains asbestos.

If you or someone you love has been affected by mesothelioma cancer caused by asbestos, you might be able to take legal action against the manufacturers responsible for your suffering. Please contact Baron & Budd online or call [plink phone=”meso” to learn more.

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