What You Need to Know for Safe Asbestos Removal


As years pass and building methods become more refined, standards and practices are bound to change. With each generation of new materials, an older generation is rendered less efficient, and often, less safe. Over the last century, thousands of houses and complexes have been built with materials that are now regulated out. One such change happened in the development of insulation. Because they can both encapsulate heat and seal out cold, fibrous materials were generally preferred, and a readily available, naturally occurring fibrous material called asbestos was widely used. Over time, its use culminated in disaster, prompting widespread asbestos removal measures to stave off the possibility of serious health effects due to exposure.

What is Asbestos?

Asbestos is mined from deposits in Russia, Kazakhstan, and China, but in its usage heyday, it was also mined in North America. It is often found in large deposits, and it can appear as a talc or vermiculite contaminant. In 1986, six official types of asbestos were identified and categorized. In construction, asbestos was most frequently used as an insulant and for fireproofing due to its pliability, cost, and effectiveness. It was placed in sheets between panels of plywood, drywall, and/or between studs. Asbestos was not only used for insulation, but was also used in a number of widely used construction materials, including tiles, cement, roofing felt, adhesives and coatings, and reinforced plastics, making modern asbestos removal all the more difficult.

Brief History of Asbestos Use

In the 1930s, asbestos production had become an industry with runaway success. One of the early victors of this market was a thermal system insulation (TSI) called AirCell, which the John Manville Corporation started manufacturing in 1908 and distributed widely. The product was discontinued sometime in the late 1910s, but by that time, AirCell was already a staple of home construction. In a 1990 EPA study, it was concluded that apartment buildings and buildings with more than eight floors built before 1944 were all highly likely to contain TSI. By that time, United States health officials also noticed a growing and alarming trend. Cases of lung cancers and other serious respiratory diseases ballooned, prompting an urgent investigation. However, due to its runaway success, the asbestos industry kept manufacturing and selling asbestos products well into the 1970s, when the first regulations were enacted, and asbestos removal became a priority.

Asbestos Exposure Risks

Asbestos was eventually identified as a highly toxic carcinogen to which exposure was dangerously easy. The fibrous asbestos products degrade over decades, breaking down into a fine toxic dust that seeps through cracks in drywall and floorboards and permeates the air. The relatively minor symptoms of exposure are still serious: inflammation, scarring, and possible genetic damage; this means asbestos removal is all the more critical.

The worst effects of asbestos exposure are carcinogenic. Asbestos is notorious for causing progressive lung diseases, lung cancers, and other cancers, including a rare, aggressive cancer known as mesothelioma—one that is almost exclusively associated with asbestos exposure. Symptoms of a mesothelioma infection include shortness of breath and chest pain, and those diagnosed with this rare cancer are often given a life expectancy of approximately a year. These days, the most likely avenue to asbestos exposure is when old buildings containing legacy asbestos products are renovated or demolished. It is now common practice to conduct safe inspections and asbestos removal beforehand.

How to Remove Asbestos Safely

Do-it-yourself asbestos removal is highly dangerous and very discouraged. Asbestos removal most often requires a professional asbestos removal company. Even though the practice is discouraged, removal of less than ten square meters of asbestos can be accomplished safely by taking the following steps and precautions:

– Wear the appropriate PPE: A standards-approved dust mask with two straps, a hat or beanie, gloves (rubber, if possible), goggles, and disposable coveralls are the bare minimum required for at-home asbestos removal.

– Don’t consume food or drink: The area you’re working in is guaranteed to have been permeated with brittle, toxic asbestos dust. Any food or drink consumption must be done a safe distance from the site. Before going for lunches or breaks, make sure you remove all of your gear and pack it up far away from the eating area.

– Don’t use power tools, drills, or cutters: These tools will agitate the asbestos. Your asbestos removal should be contained as much as possible.

– Handle removed asbestos carefully: Do not drop the sheets. Lower all material into a sheet of plastic and wrap it up securely as soon as possible.

Professional Asbestos Removal

Regulatory agencies and health officials alike actively discourage untrained homeowners from doing their own asbestos removal. Because of the terrible risks involved, asbestos removal is always best left to licensed, certified inspectors and removers.