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Asbestos at Home – Leave it in or Take it Out?
How old is the home you live in? Chances are, if you are living in a house or apartment that was constructed between 1940 and 1980, one or more products used in the interior of your home is likely to contain asbestos, a mineral now known to cause lung diseases and an aggressive, deadly cancer called mesothelioma.
Let’s take a look, starting from the floor up, at some of the interior products commonly used in the home-building industry during the last half of the twentieth century, and whether they can remain in place or should be taken out.
Linoleum and Floor Tile
If your home was constructed before 1975 and your floors are covered with 9-inch by 9-inch vinyl or asphalt tile, it is likely that tile was made with asbestos fibers. Asbestos was added to floor tile as a binding agent, and the fiber added fireproof and soundproof qualities, as well. Even the black glue used to stick that tile to the subfloor may have contained asbestos. Some brands of 12-inch by 12-inch asphalt tile also contained asbestos, and so did some sheet linoleum.
Drywall and Joint Compound
If your home was built after the 1930s, your interior walls are probably at least partially constructed of drywall, which is sold in 4-foot by 8-foot panels. In single-family dwellings, these gypsum boards (also called sheetrock) did not usually include asbestos fiber. However, the heavier, insulated cement boards used as firewalls in apartment buildings and commercial construction often did contain asbestos. Either way, once they were installed, much of the sheetrock mud, also known as joint compound, which covered seams between sheets of drywall or asbestos cement boards to create a smooth surface, did contain asbestos fiber.
Starting in the 1950s, paint mixed with asbestos and cellulose, vermiculite or wood fiber was commonly sprayed or troweled onto the ceilings of household kitchens, hallways, bathrooms and bedrooms from one coast to the other. Asbestos fiber was used as a “filler” component because it increased the “bumpiness” of the texture and acted as a binding agent, making the thickened paint easier to spread without separating.
This type of ceiling was not only inexpensive and easy to apply, it also offered a certain degree of soundproofing between floors. But mostly, “popcorn” ceilings readily covered defects in ceiling construction, as well as poor workmanship, stains and structural cracks, hence its popularity in new home construction throughout the middle of the last century. In fact, the use of asbestos in textured ceiling products was so common that if your home was constructed before 1985, you should assume those bumps above your bed contain asbestos.
What You Can Do
Should you panic? No. Walking on asbestos floor tile is not necessarily harmful. Interior rooms constructed of sheetrock joined together by asbestos-containing wall-joint compound is no cause for undue alarm. Living in a home with popcorn ceilings is not inherently dangerous.
Danger occurs when the asbestos fibers are disturbed and released into the air — where they can be inhaled. So don’t drag the refrigerator (or anything else) across a floor covered in asbestos tile. Don’t scrape off that textured ceiling material, rip up old floor tile or demolish an old sheetrock wall without first consulting a certified asbestos abatement company to determine if it contains asbestos. If it does, have them remove or encapsulate it for you. In some jurisdictions, you may be permitted to carefully seal or cover asbestos-containing materials on your own to make certain the toxic fibers cannot be released.
If old floor tile, sheet rock walls or textured ceilings in your home are crumbling or must be removed, you can contact your county’s health department to determine the local regulations for its testing and safe abatement. Do not scrape or remove the material yourself!
A diagnosis of mesothelioma means that you were exposed to airborne fibers released by cutting, sanding, drilling, scraping, shaking, mixing or otherwise disturbing one of the many products which contained asbestos in the last century, or by washing the dusty clothes of someone who did. If you or someone you love has been given a diagnosis of mesothelioma, contact Baron & Budd or call for a free and completely private consultation at 855-280-7664.