Better Safe Than Sorry: Your Guide to Identifying Asbestos in Your Home or Workplace

The World Health Organization classifies all types of asbestos as a human carcinogen. The WHO also estimates that half of all occupational cancer deaths are due to asbestos.

In the US alone, asbestos claims the lives of 12,000 to 15,000 people. It does so by causing mesothelioma, asbestosis, pleural effusion, and lung cancers.

Despite all these effects, the US has yet to completely ban the use of asbestos in the nation. Even the EPA’s April 2019 final rule still doesn’t cover all asbestos products.

That said, identifying asbestos at home or in the workplace should be one of your top priorities. Especially if you’re planning to remodel or renovate your home or office.

Ready to learn how to identify asbestos and what to do in case you come across it? Then let’s get right into it!

The Age of Your Home

The first attempt to ban asbestos in the US took place in 1989. This law made it illegal to use asbestos in new products. It also banned a few asbestos-containing products, including flooring felt and specialty paper.

The thing is, more than 50% of owner-occupied homes in the US have been in existence before 1980. These old homes are the likeliest to contain materials made from or with asbestos.

That said, the first step on how to tell if asbestos is in your home is through its age. If its construction took place before or in the early ’80s, chances are, it contains asbestos.

These include roofing, shingles, and siding made with asbestos cement. There’s also asbestos in old sprayed-on decorative and insulating materials. It was also commonly used in plaster ceilings, as well as vinyl and asphalt floor tiles.

The Age of the Materials

If you can, find out the manufacturing date of some materials to figure out if they contain asbestos. An example is flooring felt made before August 27, 1990. These products likely contain asbestos.

Commercial, corrugated, and specialty paper manufactured before 1996 may also have asbestos. Rollboards produced before this year may also contain this deadly material.

Check the Label for Asbestos Letter Codes

One way to identify asbestos in some materials is by checking their label or stamp for “AC”. This stands for “asbestos-containing”. However, you should wear a respirator before going near any potential asbestos-containing items.

Keep in mind that dust masks or N95 masks won’t filter asbestos fibers. You should only use an N100 or HE respirator when dealing with a possible asbestos case at home.

Note that not all products have a label, but that doesn’t mean they don’t have asbestos. Moreover, not all asbestos-containing materials will state this fact on their labels. If you suspect that these contain asbestos, do not touch, disturb, or cause any damage to them.

Asbestos-containing products usually release their toxic fibers only when you disturb them. This means repairing, cutting, tearing, scraping, or drilling into them.

They can also release their fibers once they get damaged, such as if they crack or break into pieces. Here’s a page where you can learn more about asbestos exposure.

Visual Identification of Asbestos

Some commercially-produced asbestos products look like balls of fuzz, much like attic insulation. Some asbestos sheets may also have a dimpled or cratered pattern on their surfaces. Older asbestos cement boards look like a thin sheet of concrete with fibers in it.

There may also be asbestos in ceilings or ceiling tiles that are off-white or gray in color and have fibers in them. Older plumbing pipes may have also used the same asbestos insulation.

Most vinyl asbestos tiles came in 9 x 9- and 12 x 12-inch squares. The same goes for asphalt-asbestos floor tiles. These floor tiles have shown to contain up to 40% asbestos.

Some floor tiles made with asbestos and asphalt may also give off an oily appearance. Some sections may also appear to be darker than the rest, which is due to the asphalt. If your home has tiles that are black or dark gray or brown, these likely contain asbestos.

Identifying Asbestos Through Professional Testing

Because of the dangers of asbestos, it’s best to hire a trained and licensed inspector. These specialists use accurate testing methods that will confirm the presence of asbestos.

Consider hiring an asbestos inspector if you notice damage in older structural materials. These include crumbling drywall, worn or frayed insulation, and cracked vinyl tiles.

An asbestos inspection is also a must prior to renovating or remodeling an older home. Such construction activities can disturb or damage asbestos-containing materials.

What to Do If You Find Asbestos-Containing Materials

Don’t touch any asbestos-containing products you find at home or work. So long as these products are intact and not disturbed, they’re unlikely to release fibers. However, you should also check them (don your respirator first!) for visible signs of damage or wear.

If there are damages (even small, hairline cracks), it may be best to hire asbestos contractors. Although asbestos is very durable, those cracks may be enough to let fibers out. From there, anyone is at risk of asbestos exposure.

Asbestos contractors are professionals who repair and remove asbestos materials from buildings. You may also need their services if there will be any kind of construction activity at your home or office.

Asbestos Identification Is Key to Preventing Asbestos-Related Diseases

There you have it, everything you need to know about identifying asbestos. Now that you know how and why you need to identify it, you can start planning for its containment or removal.

Again, so long as asbestos-containing products are in good condition, don’t disturb them. It’s best to let them be and just limit access to their locations. However, if there’s any chance that they will get damaged, hire professionals to safely get rid of them.

Ready for more useful how-to guides like this? Then be sure to check out the rest of the posts under this site’s Miscellaneous section!

About RJ Frometa

Head Honcho, Editor in Chief and writer here on VENTS. I don't like walking on the beach, but I love playing the guitar and geeking out about music. I am also a movie maniac and 6 hours sleeper.

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