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Asbestos in California: in the Home and Workplace

Is theres asbestos-containing material in your home or workplace

This fact sheet provides information to people who are trying to determine whether there is asbestos-containing material in their home or workplace, and what they might do if there is. It reviews health concerns about asbestos exposures, plus options and resources to address these concerns.

What is Asbestos?

Asbestos is a mineral fiber . It is mined just like any other mineral. The fibers are heat resistant, resistant to chemical attack, have excellent tensile strength and have high electrical resistance. These properties make asbestos a useful material for electrical and thermal insulation. It was often added to building materials for this reason. There are several types of asbestos; the most common are chrysotile, amosite, and crocidolite.

Asbestos and Indoor Air

The main source of asbestos in indoor air is insulation products. Buildings built in the last 50 years used a variety of materials composed of asbestos mixed with other fibers like paper, fiberglass, or synthetic fibers and a binder, usually lime or gypsum mortar. The most commonly reported material in California homes is the cottage-cheese ceiling insulation. Other common materials include vinyl floor tiles, patching compounds and textured paints, furnace, stove and pipe insulation, stove door gaskets, some roofing shingles and siding material, and parts of some pre-1979 appliances (e.g. toasters, clothes dryers, hair dryers).


How dangerous is asbestos to my health?

You will not be harmed by touching it or being near asbestos-containing materials. Your health may be affected by inhaling asbestos fibers, where the fibers may become lodged in the microscopic tubules of your lower lung. Symptoms of lung problems do not usually appear until 20-30 years of exposure to high levels of asbestos fibers. Most people do not develop health problems when exposed to small amounts of asbestos. However, the risk of lung disease from asbestos exposure is greater among smokers Many studies have shown that the combination of smoking and asbestos exposure is particularly hazardous. A study recently published in the New England Journal of Medicine (May 28, 1998) reports that, "exposure to moderate levels of asbestos does not appear to significantly increase a person's risk of developing lung cancer." However, this is an area of continued debate among scientists.


How can I find out if I have asbestos in my home?

It is not possible to identify asbestos just by looking at it. It can only be identified by a person trained in fiber identification with a special polarized light microscope. There are certified labs throughout California that can identify asbestos in building materials (see attached list). Contact a lab to find out how the sample should be collected and sent for testing. It's not an expensive test and should cost about $35 per sample.

What should I do if there is asbestos in my home?

If you have an asbestos-containing material in your home, your choices are to remove it, contain it, or live with it.

The best thing to do, if the asbestos-containing material is in good condition, is to leave it alone. The only way that it can affect your health is when the material is damaged and fibers become airborne. If it is moderately damaged, it is recommended that you manage it in place (repair the damage and contain it, possibly with a coat of paint or sealer). Removing and disposing of any asbestos-containing material is expensive and also increases the likelihood of fiber release.

If you feel that you cannot live with it, then you need to hire a certified professional for its safe removal and for testing the air after its removal. You can get help with these matters by calling the CalOSHA Asbestos Consultants Unit or U.S. EPA Asbestos Ombudsman (see Hotline phone list). They can guide you through the process. You should also contact your local health or air quality department to find out local regulations.

Who handles asbestos issues in California?

In California, asbestos wastes are regulated by local, state and federal agencies. Information on regulations, certification, and health and safety is available from the following State agencies:

  • Department of Toxic Substances Control is responsible for disposal and transport issues (916-255-3618) .
  • Department of Consumer Affairs' Contractors State License Board gives information on the certification requirements for asbestos abatement contractors (800-321-2752).
  • Cal-OSHA (Department of Industrial Relations) handles worker-safety and asbestos exposure issues (415-972-8589). Or call your local air pollution control/air quality management district.


Health hazards from asbestos dust have been recognized in workers exposed in shipbuilding trades, asbestos mining and milling, manufacturing of asbestos textiles and other asbestos products, insulation work in the construction and building trades, brake repair, and a variety of other trades. Demolition workers, drywall removers, and firefighters also may be exposed to asbestos dust. Generally, workers who develop asbestos-related diseases show no signs of illness until many years after first exposure. For example, the time between first exposure to asbestos and the appearance of lung caner is generally 15 years or more; a delay of 30 to 35 years is not unusual.

Individuals who know or suspect they have been chronically exposed to asbestos dust on the job or at home should inform their physician of their exposure history. A physical examination is recommended if any of the following symptoms develop:

  • shortness of breath;
  • a change in cough pattern;
  • pain in the chest or abdomen;
  • difficulty in swallowing or prolonged hoarseness;
  • blood in the sputum (fluid coughed up from the lungs);
  • significant weight loss.

Free Software for Building Professionals

The Asbestos Advisor is an interactive compliance assistance tool that provides guidance to building owners, managers and lessees, as well as contractors of building renovations, maintenance, and housekeeping services on how asbestos standards may apply to those buildings and that work. It is available OSHA web page, . Select Asbestos Advisor for your operating system. When the software is run, the user is asked a series of questions regarding the buildings and employees in question. A final report is created which describes all OSHA-related responses.

Useful Phone Numbers

  • U.S. EPA Asbestos Ombudsman 800-368-5888
  • Cal/OSHA Asbestos Consultants Unit 916-574-2993
  • Asbestos Information Association 703-412-1150
  • NCI's Cancer Information Service 800-422-6237
  • CDHS' IAQ Assistance Line 510-540-2476
  • CDHS' Hazard Evaluation System and Information Service (HESIS) 510-540-2115



  • Asbestos Revisited by Alleman & Mossman, Scientific American , p 70-75, July 1997.
  • Asbestos in Your Home , from the American Lung Association (contact your local office).
  • Asbestos in the Home , from the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission at 800-638-2772 .

The following EPA documents can be obtained from their IAQ INFOLINE. at 800-438-4318 (refer to EPA document No.):

  • Managing Asbestos in Place, A Building Owner's Guide to Operations and Maintenance Programs for Asbestos-Containing Materials, (20T-2003).
  • Asbestos in Buildings: Simplified Sampling Scheme for Friable Surfacing Materials, (560/5-85-030a).
  • Asbestos Waste Management Guidance , (530-SW-85-007).
  • Guidance for Controlling Asbestos-Containing Materials in Buildings , (560/5-85-024).
  • Measuring Airborne Asbestos following an Abatement Action (600/4-85-049).

Useful Web Sites

Up-to-Date Lists of Accredited Laboratories for Asbestos Testing:

Laboratories in California Accredited for Analysis of Asbestos in Bulk Building Materials

(Polarized Light Microscopy Test Method)

The following laboratories are currently accredited by the National Institute of Standards and Technology Asbestos Program. Source: U.S. Department of Commerce (refer to web site on previous page).





Carmichael, CA


Analytical Labs San Francisco, Inc.

San Francisco, CA


Asbestos TEM Laboratories, Inc.

Berkeley, CA


Bay Area Air Quality Management District

San Francisco, CA


CAMCO Laboratory

Fontana, CA


CT&E Environmental Services Inc.

San Diego, CA


CTL Environmental Services

Carson , CA


Concord Analysis, Inc.

Chatsworth, CA


Design for Health, Inc.

San Diego, CA


EMG Company

Garden Grove, CA


EMS Laboratories. Inc.

Pasadena, CA


EMSL Analytical, Inc.

South Pasadena, CA


EMSL Analytical Inc.

San Mateo, CA



El Segundo, CA


Forensic Analytical Specialties, Inc.

Hayward, CA


Forensic Analytical Specialties, Inc.

Rancho Domingues, CA


Health Science Associates

Los Alamitos, CA


Hi-Tech Environmental &Lab Services

Cypress, CA


Hygeia Laboratories, Inc.

Sierra Madre, CA


Kellco Services, Inc.

Fremont, CA


Los Angeles Department of Water and Power

Los Angeles, CA


Los Angeles Harbor Department Testing Lab

Wilmington, CA


Los Angeles Unified School District

Los Angeles, CA


MACS Lab., Inc.

Santa Clara, CA


Micro Analytical Laboratories, Inc.

Emeryville, CA


Micro Analytical Laboratories, Inc.

San Francisco, CA


Micron Environmental Labs

Duarte, CA


NATEC International, Inc.

Garden Grove, CA


National Analytical Laboratories, Inc.

Roseville, CA


National Econ Corporation

Irvine, CA



Brea, CA


Precision Micro-Analysis, Inc.

Sacramento, CA


RJ Lee Group, Inc.

San Leandro, CA


San Diego Dept. of Environmental Health

San Diego, CA


San Joaquin Environmental, Inc.

Fresno, CA


South Coast Air Quality Management District

Diamond Bar, CA


Western Analytical Laboratory

Burbank, CA


This list was last updated May 4, 1998 and may now be dated. For a current national list, click here!

Based on the California Department of Health Services Info Sheet

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