How to Identify Asbestos

Asbestos could be anywhere. Old homes and buildings could house this dangerous substance in many places, and even though installation restrictions began decades ago, class action lawsuits are still being filed.

On October 26th, 2016, an $80 million settlement was awarded to two Jackson County, MO employees after they filed a class action lawsuit claiming asbestos exposure. Over 7,500 people may still be eligible for medical screens and potential court cases after being exposed to the toxic substance during recent renovation of the county courthouse.

This new ruling proves asbestos is still out there.  The material still hides in nooks and crannies of older buildings. When purchasing a new home or planning renovations, you must be aware of potential asbestos-related issues. But how to identify asbestos? It is tricky to locate, but not impossible. It will require professional testing to determine, but you can look for the tale tell signs to identify asbestos.

What is Asbestos?

Asbestos is a natural resource fiber. Due to its strength and fire resistance, asbestos became useful for insulation in buildings, clothing, and car parts. Contrary to popular belief, asbestos is not immediately harmful. The substance eventually becomes toxic over time as it deteriorates into the air.

Where Can You Find Asbestos?

Originally lauded for its diversity, asbestos was used all throughout homes. Some of the places include:

  1. Heating system

    Asbestos can be found throughout air duct systems, weather insulation, and even broilers. Traces could potentially be scattered across cement, wrapping, and clothes near heating ducts.

  2. Plumbing

    Piping and hot water heaters can house asbestos. It was used extensively in the insulation around the piping. When evaluating your home or buildings’ water heater, pay extra attention to the insulating blanket under the metal cover.

  3. Garage

    Older cars and vehicles could contain this dangerous fiber. In November of 2016, $12.5 million was awarded to the family of an auto mechanic who contracted fatal lung cancer. Between 1969 and 1980, the man, George Cooney, worked as a mechanic and was exposed to asbestos via fork lift parts. Despite a longterm smoking habit, a jury found the fork lift manufacturer to be majorly responsible for the asbestos-caused affliction.

  4. General Construction

    Window sealants, siding, sheetrock, and ceilings may also hold this toxic threat. Asbestos fibers were added to strengthen windows. It could be found in putty, glues, and sealants.

How to Identify Asbestos in Specific Materials

Asbestos was mixed into many materials in many ways. Each type of material has a unique way in which you can detect and identify asbestos.

  1. Water Pipes

    It is difficult to detect asbestos in water pipes. Leakage over time makes identification even more challenging. Look for dry and flaky parts of insulation, rust, and any part of the pipe that looks deteriorated.

  2. Window putty

    You probably don’t look at a beautiful window and think about it having asbestos. Window putty is often completely skipped when you trying to identify asbestos. While it may not expel much asbestos into the air, renovations and demolition can cause many problems. One way to detect asbestos in the window putty is to look at its consistency. If the putty appears more crumbly and loose than smooth and placid, you might have asbestos.

  3. Vinyl floor tile

    Vinyl floor tiles hit their peak popularity about the same time that asbestos awareness sparked. Some floor tiles were clearly marked as containing asbestos. These labels make a contractor’s job easier, but it isn’t realistic to rely on it. Asbestos could be anywhere. Before it was known to be a problem, asbestos was in virtually all floor tiles. Because of its reputation for strength and diversity some homeowners even preferred the material. Before you go pulling up yours, look at the bonding material. If it is dry and cracked, you probably have a problem. If it is fluid or comes up with relative ease, you are probably safe. The mold spot on the right picture is a good indicator of the asbestos.

What Tests Can Be Done to Measure Asbestos

Identifying asbestos on your own can be difficult. The samples will need to be sent to a lab, but there are some telltale signs that can help you identify the possible presence of asbestos. For example, the year of your home can mean you are more likely to have asbestos. Areas in rapid decline are good places to start collecting samples. Wear and tear releases toxic asbestos into the air. If an older home exhibits extensive pipe rust, window flaking, and vinyl chipping, it may be smart to get an expert evaluation. Using samples from the air and various suspicious materials, technicians will use a polarized light microscopy test to determine the toxicity level.

What Do You Do When You Find Asbestos

When you have asbestos, you will need a team that is fully certified in removal. If you do have asbestos, or think you do, it is best not to try to remove it. It will most dangerous when it has been shaken up because the particles get in the air and you breathe it in. An asbestos abatement company has the proper training to properly handle asbestos. When asbestos breaks down, it goes airborne. Those airborne particles are inhaled. The inhalation can cause severe mesothelioma, an aggressive form of cancer that develops in the lungs and abdomen. The removal of this substance should not be taken lightly. A certified team will be required to ensure safe removal.
The asbestos abatement company will ask you to vacate the premises.  Unfortunately, finding asbestos can set your budget, your remodeling timeline, and your stress level on edge. Just remember, it is fixable and tries to take it one step at a time.

Recent Asbestos Class Action Lawsuits

With more than 8,000 defendants and 700,000 claimants, asbestos litigation is the most expensive and lengthy mass tort in United States history. Some analysts have determined that the total cost of asbestos-related litigation in the United States could reach $275 billion.

In September 2016, a Boston area landlord was forced to pay $100,000 in civil penalties for allowing contractors to perform work in asbestos-ridden buildings.

In June 2016, an Oregon jury awarded a 65-year-old former construction worker $8.75 million. The man, David Hoff, now has incurable cancer and is only expected to live for another year and a half. The jury found the man’s old construction company to be liable for exposing him to asbestos-lined wallboards. When Hoff sanded the boards, he inhaled asbestos particles.

Also in June 2016, a NYCAL awarded Frank Gondar a verdict totaling $22 million. Gondar was exposed to asbestos from working near Burnham boilers and was diagnosed with mesothelioma. The jury found that Burnham did not adequately provide warnings to the public regarding the effects of being exposed to their equipment.

More recently at the end of September, Florida jury awarded Rosa-Maria Britt $9 million in a bystander asbestos case. Britt’s deceased husband, Dennis Britt, was diagnosed with mesothelioma after being exposed to insulation that contained asbestos while working for Northup Grumman Systems Corp.