Asbestos is an extremely dangerous substance that was once a mainstay of construction material. Though now banned in construction in many places, its widespread use makes it quite likely to show up in ceiling and wall material in older homes and buildings. Asbestos is best removed by qualified and certified environmental technicians, and many areas now have laws prohibiting the removal of asbestos-contaminated material by nonprofessionals.
A naturally-formed chain of fibers found in certain rocks, asbestos was once adored for its fire-resistant properties. In the days of gaslamp lighting, asbestos curtains were a necessity in theaters to prevent the whole stage from catching on fire should a lamp get knocked over. In construction, asbestos containing materials were often favored for use in insulation and to provide fire protection. Unfortunately, it was not for many years that its harmful effects were fully understood, and many lives were lost in the process of learning its dangers.
Although it may seem time- and money-saving to remove asbestos without professional help, it can be extremely dangerous. If the fibers are inhaled, they can remain in the body permanently, clogging airways and lungs. Diseases related to asbestos exposure include many forms of cancer, tumors, and mesothelioma. As the fibers can travel, exposure can affect anyone nearby, including family members, children, and pets. With exposure always a possibility, it may be well worth the time or money to allow professionals to remove asbestos.
The quickest way to know if asbestos is present is to have materials tested by an asbestos abatement company or environmental testing agency. The substance is quite common in roof tiles, ceilings, and insulation, but can be found in any layer of construction. Testing companies will require a small sample of each type of material, that are then analyzed through a polarized light microscopy or PLM test. Results are often available in less than a day, if requested. Some experts recommend testing building materials for asbestos before beginning any remodeling project in an older home.
If any fibers are present, an abatement team can be hired to remove asbestos safely. Using specialized suits and breathing equipment, professionals can tear out any asbestos-positive material while taking precaution to avoid exposure. Hiring an abatement contractor is often the only legal way to remove asbestos. Laboratories that test for asbestos can often recommend an abatement firm that can meet homeowner needs.
Some areas do allow homeowners to remove asbestos after applying for a permit. If determined to complete the job without professional assistance, be certain to wear protective clothes, goggles and a breathing respirator. Follow any and all guidelines to remove asbestos provided by the permitting body. If exposure does occur, see a doctor at once and inform them of the issue.