Asbestos in your home - and your health

Asbestos Dangers in Your Home

This page will help you understand asbestos: what it is, its health effects, where it is in your home, and what to do about it.

On this page:

Next Steps, on other pages on EHSO:

Asbestos Do's And Don'ts For The Homeowner

 Asbestos Professionals: Who Are They And What Can They Do?
includes:

  1. If You Hire A Professional Asbestos Inspector

  2. Selecting a laboratory to analyze the samples

  3. If You Hire A Corrective-Action Contractor

 Asbestos Diseases

Related Books:

Interesting reading: Fatal Deception: How Big Business is Still Killing Us with Asbestos Michael Bowker; Hardcover; Book Description: Journalist Bowker’s riveting, anecdotal look at the damage done by mining and manufacturing companies who denied the harmful effects of asbestos might have been titled "Evil Incorporated." Focusing largely on a vermiculite mine in bucolic Libby, Montana, during the Depression, silicosis, an industrial lung disease, emerged as a national social crisis. Experts estimated that hundreds of thousands of workers were at risk of disease, disability, and death by inhaling silica in mines, foundries, and quarries.

Raising Children Toxic Free: How to Keep Your Child Safe from Lead Asbestos, Pesticides, and Other Environmental Hazards
Herbert L. Needleman; Hardcover

 

Even if asbestos is in your home, this is usually not a serious problem. The mere presence of asbestos in a home or a building is not hazardous. The danger is that asbestos materials may become damaged over time. Damaged asbestos may release asbestos fibers and become a health hazard.

THE BEST THING TO DO WITH ASBESTOS MATERIAL IN GOOD CONDITION IS TO LEAVE IT ALONE! Disturbing it may create a health hazard where none existed before. Read this booklet before you have any asbestos material inspected, removed, or repaired.

Where Asbestos Hazards May Be Found In The Home

  1. Some roofing and siding shingles are made of asbestos cement. For more information about shingles and asbestos, click here.
  2. Houses built between 1930 and 1950 may have asbestos as insulation.
  3. Asbestos may be present in textured paint and in patching compounds used on wall and ceiling joints. Their use was banned in 1977.
  4. Artificial ashes and embers sold for use in gas-fired fireplaces may contain asbestos.
  5. Older products such as stove-top pads may have some asbestos compounds.
  6. Walls and floors around woodburning stoves may be protected with asbestos paper, millboard, or cement sheets.
  7. Asbestos is found in some vinyl floor tiles and the backing on vinyl sheet flooring and adhesives.
  8. Hot water and steam pipes in older houses may be coated with an asbestos material or covered with an asbestos blanket or tape.
  9. Oil and coal furnaces and door gaskets may have asbestos insulation.

What Is Asbestos?

Asbestos is the name we use to describe a group of natural mineral fibers that are known for their strength and fire-resistant properties. Asbestos has been used in thermal insulation and fire proofing for the construction industry, and in brake and clutch linings for the automotive industry. Although asbestos fibers come in blue, brown, and green colors, most asbestos used in the United States is white asbestos, and is called chrysotile.

Some asbestos fibers are so small that a microscope is necessary to see them. These small fibers can be floating in the air, and we can breath them deeply into our lungs, where they can become lodged. Inhaling asbestos fibers increases the chances of developing lung cancer, mesothelioma (a cancer of the lining of the body cavities), and asbestos, which cause shortness of breath and coughing.

In sum, asbestos is a group of mineral fibers that can be dangerous to human health when microscopic fibers are inhaled into the deep recesses of the lungs.

How Can Asbestos Affect My Health?

Asbestos fibers can have serious effects on your health if inhaled. There is no known safe exposure to asbestos. The greater the exposure, the greater the risk of developing an asbestos-related disease.

The amount of time between exposure to asbestos and the first signs of disease can be as much as 30 years. It is known that smokers exposed to asbestos have a much greater chance of developing lung cancer than just from smoking alone.

From studies of people who were exposed to asbestos in factories and shipyards, we know that breathing high levels of asbestos fibers can lead to an increased risk of:

The risk of lung cancer and mesothelioma increases with the number of fibers inhaled. The risk of lung cancer from inhaling asbestos fibers is also greater if you smoke. People who get asbestosis have usually been exposed to high levels of asbestos for a long time. The symptoms of these diseases do not usually appear until about 20 to 30 years after the first exposure to asbestos.

Most people exposed to small amounts of asbestos, as we all are in our daily lives, do not develop these health problems. However, if disturbed, asbestos material may release asbestos fibers, which can be inhaled into the lungs. The fibers can remain there for a long time, increasing the risk of disease. Asbestos material that would crumble easily if handled, or that has been sawed, scraped, or sanded into a powder, is more likely to create a health hazard.

For more information of mesothelioma, click here for the Mesothelioma Information Center


For more information

For more information on asbestos in other consumer products, call the CPSC Hotline or write to the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission, Washington, DC 20207. The CPSC Hotline has information on certain appliances and products, such as the brands and models of hair dryers that contain asbestos. Call CPSC at 1-800-638-CPSC. A teletypewriter (TTY) for the hearing impaired is available at 1-800-638-8270. The Maryland TTY number is 1-800-492-8104.

To find out whether your state has a training and certification program for asbestos removal contractors, and for information on EPA's asbestos programs, call the EPA at 202-554-1404.


This page is based on information from: American Lung Association, the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission, and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. For more information on asbestos identification and control activities, contact the Asbestos Coordinator in the EPA Regional Office for your region, or your state or local health department.

Prepared By the American Lung Association,(The Christmas Seal People),
The Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC), and
The Environmental Protection Agency and this presentation by 
Environmental Health & Safety Online, Inc.

This page was updated on 23-Mar-2017