We all hear a lot about asbestos in the news. One thing we know for sure is that asbestos is the only cause of mesothelioma, a rare form of cancer which kills about 2,500 people a year, and it is estimated that 20 million Americans will develop the disease in their lifetime. Given that Sept. 26 is Mesothelioma Awareness Day, we thought we would provide a little primer on asbestos.
Asbestos is a natural mineral that is extremely resistant to chemical reactions and fire. Because of that, it is used for a variety of reasons. However, materials that contain asbestos can become damaged and cause the fibers to become airborne. These fibers are microscopic so you cannot see them, but, when ingested or inhaled, can over the years cause a variety of debilitating and potentially fatal diseases.
Asbestos likely remains in millions of homes, especially those build before the 1970s. The most likely locations include:
- Roofing and siding
- Automobile brake pads and linings, clutch facings and gaskets
- Stovetop pads, ironing board covers and fireproof gloves
- Artificial ashes and embers for gas-fired fireplaces
- Pipe insulation used on hot water pipes, steam pipes and boiler jackets
- Door gaskets on furnaces, wood stoves and coal stoves
- Attic and wall insulation
- Textured paint or patching compounds
- Vinyl floor tiles
- Walls and floors around wood-burning stoves
You cannot really tell for sure whether your home contains asbestos, but a couple of warning signs include:
- An outline of old flooring tiles in a nine-inch by nine-inch pattern.
- Uninsulated pipes that have white or grey insulation remnants, particularly on the fittings
So if you live in a home that is more than 20 years old, or are thinking of buying a home of that vintage, you might want to consider an asbestos survey. These surveys cost between $250 and $500 and removal can cost in the thousands of dollars. Because of the expense, make sure you ask for proof of asbestos training.