Common Locations Of Asbestos In The Home

Asbestos, before it developed a reputation as a health hazard, was highly valued for its nearly indestructible nature, fireproofing qualities, and lightweight fibrous nature. Asbestos was bonded with other materials such as cement or plastics, used as a loose fibrous material or woven into textiles (1). From 1900 to the mid 1980s, asbestos was used in over 3000 building products. Some of these products have been banned by federal law, some have been voluntarily replaced by other materials, and some remain legally produced today.

Asbestos was a common ingredient in building and insulation materials previous to the 1980s, and most older structures contain at least a few asbestos-containing materials (ACMs). These products may become dangerous when the material is damaged, decayed, crumbled, or otherwise likely to let asbestos fibers escape into the air where they can be inhaled.

Common asbestos-containing products that may be found in the home, particularly if the home was built before the 1980s:

  • Cement sheet and millboard used around furnaces and woodburning stoves. Asbestos blanket or paper tape insulating boilers, furnaces, or furnace ducts.  Door gaskets for furnaces and wood or coal stoves. Heat reflectors around wood stoves. Also, artificial ashes and embers for gas-log fireplaces.
  • Loose blown-in fill insulation. Batt insulation.
  • Resilient floor tiles, the backing on vinyl sheet flooring, and the adhesives used for installing floor tiles.
  • Spray-on soundproofing or decorative texture on walls and ceilings.
  • Patching and joint compounds and textured paints for walls and ceilings.
  • Cement roofing, shingles and siding.
  • Window putty.
  • Heat resistant items for the household such as fireproof gloves, ironing board covers, stove-top pads, and some hairdryers.
  • Built-in equipment such as water heaters, range hoods, clothes driers and dishwashers.
  • Automobile brake pads and linings, clutch facings and gaskets (2, 3).

Transite pipes and flues are another source of concern. Transite is an asbestos-containing cement material which has been used in underground plumbing to transport water into homes.  It eventually deteriorates and may release asbestos fibers into water flowing through the pipe (4).

Another potential source of asbestos around the home is vermiculite, a natural mineral compound often used for insulation and gardening. Prior to its closure in 1990, the Libby mine near Libby, Montana, supplied a majority of the vermiculite used for insulation throughout the world. Vermiculite from Libby was contaminated with asbestos, which also occurred naturally in large amounts in the Libby mine.

Attic insulation made with Libby vermiculite was often sold under the name Zonolite. Vermiculite was also sold as a soil amendment used in gardening and as a lightweight aggregate in construction materials. Vermiculite products made after the Libby mine closed in1990 are not expected to contain significant amounts of asbestos (5).

There are asbestos-containing materials still on the market today. They are required to be clearly labeled. If you have older material in your home that contains asbestos, you can’t tell merely by looking at it. If you are concerned, have a professional sample and test the product for the presence of asbestos.

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