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Asbestos pipe insulation in buildings - how to recognize & handle:
Asbestos insulation was widely used on heating pipes, sometimes on water pipes, and occasionally on other pipes in buildings. This asbestos insulating product appears most-often as a gray-white corrugated paper (photo at page top) but might also appear as a plaster or cementious paste on pipe elbows, valves, or on other irregular components.
This article provides photographs of abandoned and partly-covered-up asbestos pipe insulation in buildings to assist in the recognition of that material.
We include photos of pipe insulation that is not but might be mistaken for asbestos. We discuss the procedure and costs for removal of asbestos pipe insulation and comment on leaving the insulation in place.
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This document assists building buyers, owners or inspectors who need to identify asbestos materials (or probable-asbestos) in buildings by simple visual inspection.
Asbestos pipe insulation materials like the insulation shown at page top should have been removed during asbestos abatement, and so form an indication of amateur workmanship, raising the question of asbestos particle contamination in other building areas.
The photographs shown here assist in distinguishing between corrugated asbestos paper pipe wrap from fiberglass insulation pipe wrap.
Thanks to reader JJ for the photo of fiberglass heating pipe insulation shown above. Look carefully at the end of these wrapped insulation sections (see my photo just below) to see the difference. In the photo of fiberglass pipe insulation, I peeled back a little of the white-painted outer fabric to show the yellow fiberglass interior.
The photograph shown at the page top is some "new old stock" corrugated asbestos pipe insulation that was never used - just left in a basement ceiling.
Look closely at the photos that follow as it these are clear examples of the visual characteristics of the corrugated-paper-like asbestos wrap which was used along the lengths of heating and other plumbing pipes in buildings.
While an expert lab test using polarized light microscopy may be needed to identify the specific type of asbestos fiber, or to identify the presence of asbestos in air or dust samples,
many asbestos-containing building products not only are obvious and easy to recognize, but since there were not other look-alike products that were not asbestos, a visual identification of this material can be virtually a certainty in many cases.
A professional asbestos removal company would not have left these un-used asbestos pipe insulation sections "stored" here.
Watch out: as we illustrate at the ASBESTOS in POOR CONDITION article linked-to just above, you might find newer fiberglass heating pipe insulation installed over an amateur or incomplete asbestos removal job. That article shows examples of incompeltely-removed asbestos indicating an amateur or improper asbestos abatement job.
Here's an example of an insulation retro-fit using spray foam insulation.
A professional would not have left this asbestos pipe insulation in place.
Perhaps more of this material will be found elsewhere in the building.
If a section of asbestos insulation were found to have been totally encapsulated by the new spray foam insulation, such as in a wall cavity, most experts would be expected to recommend that it be simply left alone
Above: loose corrugated asbestos paper insulation on steam pipes in an apartment in Gramercy Park, NY. It's a little worrisome to see asbestos insulation falling off of pipes that are just above a laundry basket.
Below: Asbestos insulation on a roof drain pipe.
Below: asbestos pipe insulation falling off of a section of copper piping in a New York building.
Asbestos in poor condition, damaged, falling off of pipes merits professional cleanup. The urgency of that asbestos cleanup job is increased if asbestos is falling or on the ground in an area frequently entered and where it's likely to be tracked into other building areas. An example of such a situation is shown below.
Watch out: building inspectors, home inspectors, contractors, and others should not go crawling around through a basement or crawl space in the conditions shown above, unless they are properly equipped with personal protective equipment and are properly trained.
In this article series we provide photographs and descriptive text of asbestos insulation and other asbestos-containing products to permit identification of definite, probable, or possible asbestos materials in buildings.
Also see ASBESTOS DUCTS, HVAC a field identification guide to visual detection of asbestos in and on heating and cooling system ducts and flue vents.
Continue reading at ASBESTOS in POOR CONDITION or select a topic from closely-related articles below, or see our complete INDEX to RELATED ARTICLES below.
Or see ASBESTOS in GOOD CONDITION
Or see ASBESTOS REMOVAL, AMATEUR
Or see ASBESTOS on HEATING BOILERS
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Questions & answers or comments about removal of asbestos-containing pipe insulation and asbestos pipe insulation removal and disposal procedures and costs
I have about 30' of old hot water radiator heat piping with asbestos insulation like that shown at the top of this page. Need to remove insulation and then piping. Insulation appears to be wrapped in a cloth wrapping (more asbestos?). Is the insulation very friable? Besides using all proper PPE, isolation and clean-up described in your other sections, what is best method for removal of this asbestos insulation? - Tom
Tom, the corrugated-paper like asbestos pipe insulation we show at page top is quite soft and friable; the cloth wrapping its exterior is usually cotton or linen that has been painted and is not itself an asbestos material. I'd call a licensed asbestos removal company for this project.
In many jurisdictions you may be legally permitted to remove asbestos but the disposal of the asbestos containing material (ACM) waste must comply with local or state hazardous waste disposal regulations. See our page left article link: ASBESTOS MATERIAL REGULATIONS
The difference between an amateur asbestos removal and a professional job is also that the pros can be expected to take the the steps we list below. You could follow these and the more detailed procedures for asbestos cleanup in the US EPA regulations and documents in our references, but the risks are: ASBESTOS REMOVAL, Amateur, Incomplete health hazards for the worker(s) and a risk of contaminating the building with asbestos, leading to a still more-costly cleanup. Here is a general description of a professional asbestos cleanup procedure:
Because we are past the peak of consumer fear about asbestos contamination and because the procedures, regulations, licensing have become well known, removal prices for a job like the one you describe should be manageable.
Current (2011) costs per foot to remove asbestos pipe insulation range from around $12. to $25. per foot on larger jobs, and $40. to $65. per foot on a small job. Those per foot costs tend to be less on a larger asbestos abatement project than on a smaller one because of the overhead of coming to the job, setting up containment, etc.
If the asbestos pipe insulation is in good condition (not falling off, damaged, making a mess) and especially if it's not in an area where it is likely to be disturbed, you have the option of leaving it in place, perhaps coating it with an encapsulant. The cost of this approach is less than asbestos pipe insulation removal, and the total release of asbestos particles in the building is also less.
Of course plumbing and heating repairs or changes may make it necessary to disturb asbestos-insulated piping, in which case the material needs to be removed and disposed-of.
Typically you'll get a quote based on the number of linear feet of asbestos-insulated pipe to be cleaned, possibly such a quote can be obtained just by telephone, with of course the proviso that on seeing the site and a need for other measures that quote is "subject to site inspection" . If an onsite survey is required to plan the asbestos cleanup, some contractors charge around $300. for that service, and may for give that fee if they are then hired to conduct the cleanup.
We find this cost varies widely from being included in the cleanup per foot cost, to low fees for in-ground burial where permitted, to a cost per bag or pound to have the asbestos containing waste material double bagged and hauled to an approved dumping site by a licensed hazmat waste hauler.
Other costs on larger asbestos abatement jobs typically include fees to run an air scrubber - figure $100./day - and the fees paid to a qualified expert for asbestos tests performed at the site before, during, and after the cleanup. For small residential asbestos cleanup jobs such as yours, onsite airborne asbestos monitoring is not performed.
Keep in mind that an amateur asbestos removal that contaminates the building is likely to result in a far greater subsequent cost to inspect, test, and clean the building of scattered asbestos dust and debris. During the peak asbestos scare I inspected a home for a buyer and observed extensive asbestos-insulated heating piping in the basement.
The owner decided he'd do the abatement himself. His wife later told me that "... he had white powdery stuff tracked literally all through the first floor of our home and even upstairs at times ...". In short, he made a horrible mess. The real estate sale stopped dead while the owners had to hire experts to then come and clean the entire home by wiping and HEPA vacuuming everything. It would have been less costly to have done the cleanup right the first time.
Questions & answers or comments about what building materials may contain asbestos, visual identification of asbestos-containing materials in buildings, and possible asbestos material identification by testing, use, age, appearance.
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