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Asbestos exposures are not as uncommon as you may think. Did you know plaster walls only have to contain 1% asbestos to be regarded as a health hazard? Such walls are classified as Asbestos Containing Material (ACM). This information is relevant because asbestos is a common insulation material. Do you need a guide to know what asbestos looks like in walls?
This article will answer these questions. We will also consider differences between friable and non-friable asbestos and areas they can be found. We will close with how to manage an asbestos problem and which asbestos consultant you should invite.
What is Asbestos?
Asbestos is a mineral fibre that is found in certain rocks. It is commonly used in the manufacture of a lot of products, especially building materials. This is because it is durable, fire-resistant, and relatively cheap.
However, asbestos Containing Materials (ACM) are health hazards. Any material that contains asbestos, upon disturbance, will release asbestos fibres into the air. These asbestos fibres in the home pose a respiratory health risk even in small airborne amounts.
How to Identify Asbestos
You can identify asbestos by its fluffy, crumbly, and fibrous appearance. Furthermore, it can have a muddy brown colour or may even look like white cotton wool. A third colour variation is blue. Sometimes it appears like a ball of thick fuzz and looks like attic insulation.
Types of Asbestos
• Chrysotile - Chrysotile, also called white asbestos, is the most common one. This is hardly surprising since it makes up for a whopping 95 percent of asbestos used worldwide. It has a layered structure and curly fibres.
You can find chrysotile in roofs, walls, ceilings, and floors. They are also commonly used in gaskets, boiler seals, and brake linings. Additionally, you can find them in insulation for pipes, ducts, and appliances.
• Amosite - Another commonly used type of asbestos is amosite. It has a brown colour. Furthermore, it poses a greater risk of cancer than the other types of asbestos. It is commonly used in cement sheets, insulation boards, ceiling tiles, thermal insulation products, and pipe insulation.
• Crocidolite - Crocidolite asbestos is blue in colour. It is regarded as the most hazardous type of asbestos and has thin fibres. Crocidolite asbestos is also found in pipe insulation, plastics, and cement products.
History of Asbestos Production
Interestingly, though, asbestos can still be found in the walls of older buildings. Any residential or industrial building that was built or renovated before 2000 possibly has asbestos in it.
Most of such building materials containing asbestos were produced between 1940 and 1990. Asbestos has been found in stucco and drywall dating as early as 1910. Consequently, if your building was constructed or renovated within this time frame, you should probably do some tests.
Areas Where You Can Find Asbestos
Asbestos was a standard construction material for schools, factories, and buildings in general. Thus, checking the age of a building can be a good start when looking for signs of asbestos in walls.
Areas where you can find asbestos include the following:
• Insulation materials in attics - If insulating materials were probably installed in your attic within the twentieth century, it likely has asbestos. It would be for the best if you got the materials tested for asbestos before handling them.
• Drywall - Unlike plaster walls, most drywall areas in homes are free of asbestos. On the other hand, asbestos drywall is more common in commercial buildings. However, if a renovation was done on your home before 1980, you should check the drywall edging or texture compound for asbestos.
• Interior wall paint - Asbestos was used as a common additive in wall paints up until the 1990s.
• Air conditioning or heating systems - The A.C or heating ducts in older buildings are likely to contain asbestos. This is because asbestos was popularly used for insulation.
• Gas and sewage pipes - Asbestos was sometimes used in building gas and sewage pipes. However, asbestos cement breaks down with time. When they do, asbestos fibres may be released into the pipelines. You can imagine how hazardous this can be for our respiratory health.
• Floor tiles and carpet underlay - In the home and commercial buildings, you can sometimes find asbestos in carpet underlay. Similarly, they can be found in vinyl floor tiles and floor tile fixing glue.
• Boiler and pipe insulation - Pipe insulation systems connecting to furnaces and boilers may contain asbestos. Furthermore, some boilers are coated with asbestos for insulation.
Other areas where asbestos is used include under window panels, lift shaft linings, fireproofing, soffits, and ceiling tiles. More specifically, they are used for external cladding and partition walls.
Friability as a term describes the chances of asbestos-containing materials (ACMs) breaking apart or crumbling when put under external pressure. If this happens, the more likely it is that the material deteriorates and releases asbestos fibres, the more friable it is considered.
• Friable asbestos - To be classed as friable, asbestos must contain over 1% asbestos by weight. Friable asbestos is weak and easy to damage. Once broken, the inhalable fibres will be released into the air. Thereafter, they pose a health hazard to animals and humans within the area. Furthermore, it can be so fragile as to be easily damaged by hand.
• Non-friable asbestos - On the other hand, non-friable asbestos is more durable. They are resistant to abrasion. As such, they are less likely to break down or release asbestos fibres into the air. Furthermore, you cannot easily damage it using your hands.
Consequently, non-friable asbestos is considered low risk. They are majorly used to reinforce existing materials and increase their durability. One example of non-friable asbestos is cement. Before the late 1990s, about 10-15% of cement contained asbestos fibres.
When cement containing asbestos starts crumbling, it has to be handled by certified professionals. Furthermore, they have to put on Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) to reduce their risk of asbestos exposure.
How to Check Plaster Walls for Asbestos
Since older buildings are more at risk of containing asbestos, those who work there should be cautious. These include builders, plumbers, and electricians. So what steps should you take to check your walls for asbestos? You can do the following to ensure your safety.
First, you should find out the date of the building's construction. Maybe, you can ask your landlord about this.
Second, check the walls for damaged or crumbling plaster. Also, check the texture of the plaster and the style of the building. Remember not to touch it. Only look for signs of damage such as abrasions or tears.
After identifying asbestos, you should know what type it is. You may not have immediate cause for worry if you find undamaged non-friable asbestos. One option to take here is asbestos encapsulation. The asbestos is contained, and fibres are not released.
Alternatively, if the non-friable asbestos is damaged or deteriorated, you should invite a professional asbestos removal company.
Again, you may find undamaged friable asbestos. The chances of dangerous fibres being released are slimmer. However, they should be removed if possible or the area sealed off.
Finally, if you confirm or think you have asbestos in your plaster walls, invite an asbestos control expert over to handle the job safely.
Sometimes, asbestos products are identified by taking samples of corrugated cement roofing sheets for testing. Extracted samples of asbestos can be sent to a lab. After that, the lab will send the samples to the manufacturer. In turn, the manufacturer will test them in a specialist testing laboratory and give results.
The test is positive if asbestos fibres are identified in the samples.
How do I Manage an Asbestos Problem?
There are two ways to manage an asbestos problem. They are repair and removal.
• Repair - With the repair method, you either seal off the asbestos material or cover it up. A sealant that binds the fibres together is used to treat the asbestos. It is better to allow a trained professional to do this.
You can repair areas such as furnaces, boiler insulation, and pipes in this way. Moreover, you can cover the area. Do this by placing a protective wrap over the exposed asbestos. You can manage exposed insulated pipes this way.
• Removal - This method is costly. It takes place especially when you need to remodel or renovate your home. In addition, the removal method is used if the damage of asbestos material is extensive.
However, you should reserve this task for specially trained contractors. This is to avoid increased health risks due to improper removal.
Signs of Asbestos Poisoning
Prolonged and frequent exposure to asbestos increases the risk of developing severe health problems. Those who are affected may not even be aware. They may not experience coughing or sneezing. There is no itching of the skin or throat. Furthermore, you would not be able to tell when asbestos is in the air. The fibres are too tiny to see, feel, or taste.
Asbestos fibres have been linked to conditions like mesothelioma (also called lung cancer), non-cancerous lung disease, and asbestosis. Symptoms may not appear until about 10 to 40 years after first exposure.
For example, asbestosis is a severe inflammatory condition affecting the lungs. Its symptoms include extreme coughing, shortness of breath, and chest pain. Other signs include enlarged fingertips, appetite loss, and lung damage, amongst others.
Do's and Don'ts of Asbestos Removal
• Limit all movements and activity in areas with damaged materials containing asbestos.
• Handle asbestos materials with care to avoid damaging them.
• Trained and qualified asbestos professionals should do sampling, removal, and repairs of damaged asbestos.
• Do not sweep or vacuum debris that could contain asbestos.
• Avoid working with, scraping, sanding, or drilling holes in asbestos materials.
• When you need to replace asbestos flooring, if possible, install a new floor covering over it.
Which Asbestos Consultant Should You Contact?
Here are some tips for implementing when inviting an asbestos consultant. You should also include them in your asbestos management plans.
Make sure you only hire asbestos consultants who are trained and experienced. The company should be licenced by relevant authorities.
Every personnel working in your home should have evidence of being adequately trained and licenced in asbestos work.
Feel free to check for references from previous clients. You may even reach out to one or two of such clients. Find out if the job was done satisfactorily. Watch out for similar jobs done.
Summing it Up
The best way to manage an asbestos problem is to avoid being exposed. This is because asbestos diseases are hard to treat. Since you now have a guide on what asbestos looks like in walls, you are better prepared to limit activities in that area. More so, you know to invite a professional to repair or remove the asbestos.
It could be in a commercial, industrial, or residential building. It could also involve friable or non-friable asbestos. Either way, you can get it done in a safe and professional manner.