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Asbestos in the Raw

Asbestos is a mined substance commonly found in all sorts of building materials.  In the meantime it was used since the days of the ancient Greeks for its many fire resistant and its ability to be used as cloth. It has gone in and out of vogue. There had been suspicion about asbestos and health problems. It was not clinically associated with serious medical problems until the late 1920’s, when workers in the mines began to fall ill with lung disease, cancer and death at a young age, that asbestos became a known health hazard.

Here in Boise Levco brings samples to Materials Testing Incorporated to be tested. According to them they are the only lab in the region that does asbestos analysis using a special microscope and procedures that currently do this work.

Asbestos wrapped hot water pipes

Like Lead based paint, asbestos was pulled from the market in 1977 by the EPA; however existing stock piles were allowed to be used up so there may be new installations as late as 1986.

There are many building materials we come across when remodeling here in Boise Idaho that contained asbestos. The problem is that it breaks down into such minute dust particle that even HEPA vacuums can’t catch it all. Wet wiping is a better method of containing dust created during removal.

This list from the EPA website is very complete

  • STEAM PIPES, BOILERS, and FURNACE DUCTS insulated with an asbestos blanket or asbestos paper tape. These materials may release asbestos fibers if damaged, repaired, or removed improperly.
  • RESILIENT FLOOR TILES (vinyl asbestos, asphalt, and rubber), the backing on VINYL SHEET FLOORING, and ADHESIVES used for installing floor tile. Sanding tiles can release fibers. So may scraping or sanding the backing of sheet flooring during removal.
  • CEMENT SHEET, MILLBOARD, and PAPER used as insulation around furnaces and wood burning stoves. Repairing or removing appliances may release asbestos fibers. So may cutting, tearing, sanding, drilling or sawing insulation.
  • DOOR GASKETS in furnaces, wood stoves, and coal stoves. Worn seals can release asbestos fibers during use.
  • SOUNDPROOFING OR DECORATIVE MATERIAL sprayed on walls and ceilings. Loose, crumbly, or water-damaged material may release fibers. So will sanding, drilling or scraping the material.
  • PATCHING AND JOINT COMPOUNDS for walls and ceilings, and TEXTURED PAINTS. Sanding, scraping, or drilling these surfaces may release asbestos.

    Asbestos wrapped ducts

  • ASBESTOS CEMENT ROOFING, SHINGLES, and SIDING. These products are not likely to release asbestos fibers unless sawed, drilled or cut.
  • ARTIFICIAL ASHES AND EMBERS sold for use in gas-fired fireplaces. Also, other older household products such as FIREPROOF GLOVES, STOVE-TOP PADS, IRONING BOARD COVERS, and certain HAIRDRYERS.

Vermiculite ore that looks like little pellets of light weight mica and was mined in Libby Montana from 1919 to 1990. It was sold under the brand name Zonolite and was used in 70% of all homes insulated with Vermiculite. Attics were stocked full of it for insulation properties and fire resistance. Unfortunately, nearly all of the Zonolite mined in the Libby Montana area was mixed with/contaminated with asbestos, which was plentiful in the region. Incidentally, we have seen this product in Boise.

As hazardous as it is, when left alone or encapsulated or contained (say with paint) and not disturbed, asbestos it is not hazardous at all. The difference is that is is not aerosolized or turned into dust, also known as being friable.

As far as federal regulations are concerned, there are strict regulations for municipal, commercial & federal projects. There are Asbestos Professionals that do abatement, however there is no mandate for residential applications from the EPA at least.

EPA federal registry part 40 CFR 61 sub part M excerpt:

Facility means any institutional, commercial, public, industrial, or residential structure, installation, or building (including any structure, installation, or building containing condominiums or individual dwelling units operated as a residential cooperative, but excluding residential buildings having four or fewer dwelling units); any ship; and any active or inactive waste disposal site. For purposes of this definition, any building, structure, or installation that contains a loft used as a dwelling is not considered a residential structure, installation, or building. Any structure, installation or building that was previously subject to this sub-part is not excluded, regardless of its current use or function.

OSHA sees things differently, They are not concerned with the environment parse, only employees, here is the link to their regulations This is a class 1 Toxic substance and needs to be dealt with accordingly. Essentially if a contractor is going to be performing this work on a residential remodeling project, they need to do similar protection as Lead Safe Work Practices.

Common sense suggests that when doing removal or disturbing asbestos impregnated materials that proper respiratory protection is required. Preventing friable (airborne) materials is the best way to handle removal.

Wetting the entire surface and removing it in a dust free way immediately, then double bagging it, is our technique. We have removed Asbestos roofing in this way and double lined the dump truck. There are also special disposal techniques as well as disclosure forms at the Ada County Landfill that must be followed. As I like to say ” Fees & Forms” That being said this is no joke and something we take very seriously.

In the event you want to remove asbestos yourself check into proper safety techniques. Always consider a professional abatement company to protect the health of everyone involved. Just because you can’t see the darn stuff doesn’t mean it can’t reach out and touch you.

Here is another link to an asbestos cancer related organization that may be helpful and supports much of what I am saying in this article

Your comments are welcome. To ask questions or get more information about remodeling, click here to email me directly.

Disclaimer: Some of these images came from the WEB. If they are yours, and you object to them being used, please claim them and I will gladly remove and replace them at once.


  • Brian Chojnacky says:

    Hi Joe,
    If a home does have asbestos in the attic, can this filter through the ceiling via openings around light fixtures or ceiling fans? Also, besides testing, is their any way of knowing for certain that asbestos is in the attic insulation?

    • Joe Levitch says:

      We checked your attic and found a combination of “Rock Wool” insulation with Fiberglass blown in on top of it.
      Here is a link to what I believe is in your attic. you or I can take a small sample to our local lab and have it tested to be sure but you do not have the vermiculite I am certain of that. Any time there is a opening between ceiling and attic there is a potential for cross contamination but in your case the home looks pretty tight.

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