Identifying asbestos is important for the health of everyone that spends time in the building. At one time, asbestos was widely used in building materials. In place, it presents little risk, but if damaged or removed, the particles may become airborne, which can lead to serious health conditions to anyone who is exposed. Before doing any remodeling work in a home or building, it is especially important to verify whether any materials in the home contain asbestos.
Identifying asbestos is impossible to do with the naked eye; however, there are many specific types of building materials that commonly contain asbestos. For the do-it-yourself homeowner, recognizing the building materials that contain asbestos is the first step in identifying asbestos. Homes that contain popcorn ceilings, vinyl tile, any insulation, including batt, loose, and electrical, cement siding, and shingles installed prior to the later 1970s probably contain asbestos.
When working in a building that was constructed or remodeled prior to 1978, it is safe to assume that some materials in the building contain asbestos. If you are unsure about the dates of construction or remodeling, identifying asbestos will be more difficult. It is important to note that while it is possible to make an educated guess whether something contains asbestos, only an expert can positively identify asbestos containing materials. When in doubt, treat the material as if it does contain asbestos.
Professional help is required in definitively identifying asbestos. An asbestos abatement contractor can visit the site and collect samples from likely materials. The contractor will then send these samples to a laboratory certified by the Environmental Protection Agency for analysis. A licensed contractor will understand the proper procedure for sampling potential asbestos containing materials to reduce the likelihood of contaminating other surfaces, or the air.
If the cost of hiring a professional contractor to perform the sampling work is prohibitive, contact the local health department or the regional field office of the EPA. They may have someone on staff that can visit the site and assess the situation. After a professional assessment, it may be necessary to remove or repair any areas that contain asbestos material. In some states, the property owner may make these repairs themselves, while other states require a professional certified in asbestos removal to perform the job.