Asbestos in the home

As a home inspector, I’m not qualified to positively identify asbestos. So when I see what looks like asbestos, I always say the same thing; “Portions of the metal ductwork for the furnace are insulated with a material that appears to contain asbestos. If you have this material removed, you should assume it contains asbestos and have it professionally abated.”

Which is fine, as far as meeting the basic needs of the customer. It also works to keep me out of liability. But it falls well short of practical advice.

But what can I say, other than “Don’t touch it!”?

As it happens, there is a fair amount that I can say! I’ve been carrying on an email conversation with Evan Greenbaum from, an advocacy group that provides extensive information on asbestos and the diseases it causes. Here are some of the things I learned;

Asbestos is hard on your body!

The chart on the right is great at explaining one of the many health problems asbestos can cause, but it’s kinda hard to read, and uses big words. Let me break it down Barney style. Mesothelium, or the tissue formed by mesothelial cells, helps protect the organs by producing a lubricating fluid that allows the organs to move without irritating nerves. The asbestos fibers, being small and pretty much indestructible, damage that layer. The kind of damage caused depends on where the damage is.

The part about being small can’t be overstated. We’re talking very small, like small enough to be carried in the bloodstream.

Neither should the indestructible part be ignored. For a lot of these health problems, symptoms don’t  show up for 20 or 30 years. Again, the kind of damage is determined by which organ is effected and where. some issues, like asbestosis, can lead to other problems, like lung cancer.

A lot of the damage relates to the way a body gets exposed. Most of the folks with health issues used to work as factory employees or construction, especially remodeling. At the time of exposure, smoking on the job may have been allowed, increasing risk to both the smoker and the workers near them.

But not all of the people affected had a direct connection to the work place. Family members of a miner were at elevated risk, because the fibers can come home in the worker’s clothes.

As a sideline, maybe I can start a subscription service called      Posters Designed to Keep You Frightened Forever!

Because the one below isn’t any more comforting than the one on the right.

Because the fibers are so small and light, they can travel unnoticed, presenting at least a small amount of risk where one might not consider, such as the home of a construction worker.

Okay, I get that. But because there aren’t a lot of ship builders in the Stillwater area, I think it’s important to keep this information in perspective.

My takeaway from the poster on the left is that workplace safety is a lot more important than one might assume. Families and communities benefit when products and policies designed to promote health and safety are given their proper attention. (I talk good when I’m sober).

Jeeze, Joe! Do you have ANY good news?

Yup. Almost all of the fibers around us are “encapsulated”.  That means they pose no risk at all!

Okay, so there is potential risk. But again, let’s remember that word perspective.

Loose insulation around a pipe should be removed or encapsulated. But things like asbestos tiles on the basement floor? Come on. How likely are you to hit that stuff with a grinder?

I am not saying that floor tiles are not potentially dangerous. If you have 9″ x 9″ tiles on your floor, my strong recommendation is to have them professionally removed and legally disposed of. But don’t panic.

The whole point of this long article is that if you live in a house, you have some risks. When you plan to remodel, environmental hazards should be part of the conversation. 

Want to learn more? (Oh, COME on! 700 words and you’re still reading? Fine)

Click Asbestos network

For even more information, or just to spend more time on your computer machine, click:

Asbestos Abatement Guide

And for an idea of what’s it going to cost, click:

How much it’s going to cost.