Frequently Asked Questions: Asbestos Edition

There are few substances as notorious as asbestos. The group of minerals has earned a reputation for being incredibly dangerous — and for good reason. As a home and commercial property inspector, you can expect lots of questions from homebuyers curious about the threat of asbestos. To prepare you for the inevitable concerns of your clients, here are just a few of the most frequently asked questions about the substance.

What is Asbestos?

Asbestos is a group of minerals that combine to form flexible but strong fibers. These fibers can be woven together to form thin threads that are not impacted by heat or electricity. This makes asbestos ideal for use in insulating and fireproofing both homes and commercial structures. It has been mined and used across multiple industries since its discovery in the late 1800s.

There are four types of asbestos: Chrysotile, Amosite, Crocidolite and Anthophyllite. Each have their specific uses, but Chrysotile asbestos is the one most commonly used in the production of construction and building materials. The fiber masses created by Chrysotile asbestos can create tiny dust particles that stick to clothing and are easily swallowed and inhaled.

How is Asbestos Used?

Since World War II, asbestos has been mined and used across industries. It strengthens cement and plastics, which makes asbestos an incredibly useful substance in the construction industry. Asbestos has been used in roofing materials, vinyl siding, sheet flooring, packing materials, home insulation, paint and more. It wasn’t until the late 1970s that the dangers of asbestos became widely known.

Has Asbestos Been Banned by the Government? 

The U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission banned the use of asbestos in certain products in the 1970s. Asbestos used in products where fibers are released into the environment was banned first. Wallboard patching compounds and gas fireplaces were some of the first products to feel the crunch. Electric hair dryer manufacturers soon voluntarily removed asbestos from their products. Within a decade of the ban, asbestos fell out of popular use, with a 90 percent decline by 1989.

Asbestos is still used today. Up to one percent of a product’s ingredients may include asbestos. The substance is no longer mined in the U.S., but it remains popular internationally. Asbestos can still be found in construction materials, automotive parts, fireproofing materials and consumer goods.

How Do You Know if Asbestos is Present in a Home?

Asbestos fibers are invisible to the naked eye. They can’t be smelled or tasted, either, so it’s virtually impossible to know whether or not the substance is present in a home without laboratory testing. A home or commercial building inspector with training in asbestos inspection can identify the substance and make recommendations on how to mitigate or remove it altogether.

Most states do not require sellers to disclose whether or not there is asbestos on the property, so it’s worth the extra investment to hire an inspector trained specifically in asbestos detection.

What Health Risks Are Associated With Asbestos?

Asbestos exposure has been linked to many diseases. Lung cancer, mesothelioma, asbestosis and cancers of the GI tract and larynx are all associated with asbestos exposure. Demolition workers are the population most at risk of exposure, as asbestos fibers and dust are sent airborne during the demolition process. While government regulations have made work environments safer, any exposure to asbestos can be deadly.

Even people not working directly with asbestos can be impacted by the substance. Family members of demolition workers have developed health problems after breathing in asbestos carried home on the clothing of their loved ones. People living in homes with asbestos are also at risk. The Environmental Protection Agency makes it clear: There is no safe level of asbestos exposure.

How is Asbestos Removed?

To remove asbestos from a home, demolition and renovation is often required. This is no job for a homeowner; DIY asbestos removal is difficult and unsafe. A professional asbestos abatement company can file the required permits for demolition and ensure that any materials containing the dangerous substance are disposed of properly.

In some cases, asbestos may not need to be removed. When asbestos-containing material is in good condition, it is generally not a health threat. It is when these materials are damaged that the dangerous fibers are released into the air.

Learn More About Asbestos Inspections Now

Property inspection schools typically offer asbestos inspection training courses at high prices. It can be tough to stomach the idea of paying for such a course on top of an already pricey home inspection training class. That’s why ICA includes asbestos inspection training as a free bonus course for our students. It’s the ideal way to diversify your knowledge and address the concerns your clients have about the safety of their new homes. Whether you take the class right away or file it away to return to at a later date, it’s free to access at your convenience. Register now to learn more about handling asbestos.

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