How to recognize asbestos in buildings: here is a visual guide to identifying asbestos in buildings. This article series assists building buyers, owners or inspectors who need to identify asbestos materials (or probable-asbestos) in buildings by simple visual inspection.
In the articles listed below, 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.
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While an expert lab test using polarized light microscopy (and in some cases TEM) may be needed to identify the specific type of
asbestos fiber, the percentage content of asbestos in a material, or to identify the presence of asbestos in air or dust samples,
many asbestos-containing building products not only are visually 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.
[Click to enlarge any image]
Asbestos fibers and dust are not the only indoor air quality particle that is a potential concern in buildings. We have written about the possible irritating and perhaps health concerns associated with fiberglass insulation dust and fragments in buildings
The US EPA indicates that not all asbestos-containing products are dangerous. A health risk exists only when asbestos fibers are released from a product [into the air where they are inhaled for example]. Products that are friable (easily crumbled or made into dust that is easily airborne) are more dangerous than products in which binders immobilize the asbestos fibers.
EPA also indicates that not everyone exposed to asbestos will develop an asbestos-related illness or disease. Most people exposed to small amounts of asbestos do not develop asbestos-related health problems. Cigarette smokers are at much higher risk of asbestos-related disease.
Quoting from the US EPA Basic Advice on asbestos in homes:
What if I have asbestos in my home?
The best thing to do is to leave asbestos-containing material that is in good condition alone. If unsure whether or not the material contains asbestos, you may consider hiring a professional asbestos inspector to sample and test the material for you. Before you have your house remodeled, you should find out whether asbestos-containing materials are present.
If asbestos-containing material is becoming damaged (i.e., unraveling, frayed, breaking apart) you should immediately isolate the area (keep pets and children away from the area) and refrain from disturbing the material (either by touching it or walking on it). You should then immediately contact an asbestos professional for consultation.
It is best to receive an assessment from one firm and any needed abatement from another firm to avoid any conflict of interest. In such a scenario as described above, asbestos-containing material does not necessarily need to be removed, but may rather be repaired by an asbestos professional via encapsulation or enclosure. Removal is often unnecessary.
In most cases it is safest (and least costly) to leave the asbestos-containing materials alone. For Asbestos handling regulations,
see ASBESTOS MATERIAL REGULATIONS
Friable, damaged asbestos materials in a living area or such materials located where the asbestos is likely to be carried to an occupied space need professional asbestos remediation.
If you are cleaning-up in a building area where asbestos products may have been dislodged, such as a basement where asbestos pipe insulation has fallen to the floor, the US EPA recommends avoiding causing airborne dust and debris - a condition that could be harmful.
How to recognize asbestos materials in buildings, Photographs of asbestos in building products, List of asbestos-containing building materials
We are monitoring studies of possible health risks from other products containing carbon nanotubes. The New York Times reported that to date no illnesses have been reported concerning nanotube-containing articles and that current popular consumer products such as tennis rackets that contain nanotubes are of little risk to consumers. But because nanotube-based fibers are very small, they could pose a health risk.
Consumer caution (not fear) are advised. Carbon nanotubes include bundles of fibers that are similar to but more uniform than naturally-occurring asbestos fibers. The Times article "In Study, Researchers Find Nanotubes May Pose Health Risks Similar to Asbestos", New York Times 21 May 2008 p. A-22, reported on an article published at the website of the journal Nature Nanotechnology on 5/21/08.
For details about carbon nanotube health concerns, and health research regarding nanotechnology in industrial or research processes see NANOMATERIALS HAZARDS
Also see Micro-Photographs of Dust from the World Trade Center collapse following the 9/11/01 attack. Links to U.S. government and other authoritative research and advice are included.
As we discuss at ASBESTOS REMOVAL, Amateur, Incomplete, building owners arranging for asbestos cleanup, or any other environmental cleanup for that matter, should be sure that the company they are using is properly certified, licensed, and that the work is conducted with proper supervision and by workers who themselves are properly trained.
Failure to take these precautions risks serious consequences including contamination of other building areas by asbestos dust and debris, health risks and harm to the cleanup workers themselves, and future health risks and harm to building occupants as well as potential issues should the property later be offered for sale.
Details are at ASBESTOS REMOVAL, Amateur, Incomplete
and ASBESTOS REMOVAL CERTIFICATIONS. Excerpts are below.
Watch out: in 2010 The New York Times reported [paraphrasing from that article] that over a five year period beginning in 2001 hundreds of asbestos-removal training certificates were given to people who had completed no training whatsoever.
... 65 to 80 percent of those receiving certification as qualified asbestos removal experts had not received the necessary training.
An example of a simple asbestos test report from a certified asbestos testing lab is shown in this asbestos test result.
It will be patently obvious that despite the enormous list of products in which asbestos was used, the list of materials that do not and never did contain asbestos will be still longer - so long we won't attempt to list all such items.
But the question of whether or not certain materials contained harmful levels of asbestos has come up often for certain products.
Those we will describe here.
On the underside of bowling lane floors there is a fiberboard type material I believed was used for sound dampening. I've handled and ripped off this material so many times without once thinking what it was- I think I was told it was homosote and harmless. Since many of these bowling lanes were installed many years ago, it worried me even more. Now I'm not so sure what it is and scared at the thought of what it could be.
Also, if you have those names or contact info for anyone who might be willing to test this material for me, that would also be incredibly helpful. I can't thank you enough for your help with this- feel free to call or email me back with any information. - A.S. 11/5/2013
The material I can see in your online photos is almost certainly wood fiber based Homasote type insulating board. That is not an asbestos product. You can see more examples of this product
at SHEATHING, FIBERBOARD
If nevertheless you want to have as sample of the material tested for asbestos content, the cost is usually minor - abour $50. U.S. You can use any certified asbestos testing laboratory - and can find one via help given
at ASBESTOS TESTING LAB LIST.
Details of this question & answer are
at SHEATHING, FIBERBOARD ASBESTOS CONTENT or select a topic from closely-related articles below, or see our complete INDEX to RELATED ARTICLES below.
Continue reading at ASBESTOS PHOTO GUIDE to Materials or select a topic from closely-related articles below, or see our complete INDEX to RELATED ARTICLES below.
Or see ASBESTOS LIST of PRODUCTS
Or use the SEARCH BOX found below to Ask a Question or Search InspectApedia
Try the search box below or CONTACT US by email if you cannot find the answer you need at InspectApedia.
was any type of asbestos insulation used in mobile home metal ceiling? - Morris 11/2/11
I'm not quite sure I understand the question. Certainly the metal ceiling of a mobile home is not itself asbestos, though if it has been painted with textured or "popcorn" paint those materials may contain asbestos, depending on when they were painted on.
If you are asking about actual ceiling insulation material, it's unlikely that asbestos was used just as building insulation. On some mobile home products asbestos millboard or even asbestos paper might be found as fireproofing.
Question: I am currently renovating a home that was built in the early 1950s. The entire second floor was covered with wood paneling. Under the paneling, is 1/2 inch "board" all around the room.
It's yellow on one side (smooth), and brown (paper color/looks like possible cardboard) on the other, and has a type of "fiber" content. I ripped out a whole bunch of it, and now my throat is irritated. Has anyone ever heard of/seen this product? Does anyone know if it contains asbestos? Please let me know. Jim 1/3/12
the wallboard you describe may have been a wood-product insulating board - see INSULATION IDENTIFICATION GUIDE or for identification photos. Also see SHEATHING, FIBERBOARD ASBESTOS CONTENT .
Demolishing just about any building material that creates dust, especially old materials that may also have become moldy or may have accumulated a dust of insect or rodent debris, can be a respiratory irritant, a problem for asthmatics, etc. Check with your doctor.
Thanks Dan, do you know if these products usually contained asbestos? Jim
Wood-product insulating means to indicate made of wood materials. I have not found a reference indicating that manufacturers added asbestos to wood product insulating boards, though given the thousands of uses of asbestos, no one can issue a guarantee without testing.
Keep in mind that dust from demolition contains a lot of very irritating materials, including the sorts of items I listed above.
I was in my attic the other day and there is what looks like wool up there. My house was built in 1947, I'm not sure if it has asbestos in it or not, some of it is white in color and some is black in color and around the furnace I found and piece of paper that says eagle-picher insulation. - Robert 1/5/12
Robert, take a look at our photo-guide to identifying building insulation materials, beginning at
INSULATION IDENTIFICATION GUIDE (article links listed at the "More Reading" links at the bottom of this article ) - and you'll find a link to detailed photos of Mineral Wool - Rock Wool Insulation - a mineral fiber, but not asbestos.
It would be highly unusual for someone to actually insulate an attic with asbestos materials, though once I found a home where that had been done. The owner worked in the heating industry and used corrugated asbestos paper pipe insulation to lay in his attic floor.
We have a great gas fireplace, but lately i have become suspicious that there may be asbestos in the embers below? There is something yellowish and fluffy. It is an open fireplace. We just bought the house (built 1959) and asked both the inspector and a fireplace specialist if it was asbestos and they said no, but how can you tell? I plan on getting in tested, just feeling anxious in the meantime. - Cat 1/6/12
Your suspicion that older faux-logs in gas fireplaces contained asbestos is well founded. In my OPINION it is just about impossible to tell by visual inspection alone whether or not a gas log includes asbestos in its makeup. The new logs that are asbestos free look just like the old ones and seem to me to be about the same weight too.
You'd need to send a small material sample to a certified asbestos testing lab to know for sure what the gas log contains. But if you know that the logs are quite old, there's a good chance the are asbestos-containing.
The asbestos particle release into the building air from using an old gas log would be expected to be below the limits of detection in normal use. But if the log is mechanically damaged or disturbed, indeed you could create a messy dust that contains asbestos particles.
Watch out: if you're seeing fluffy deposits forming when the gas fireplace is in operation, that's an abnormal condition that might indicate improper combustion and an unsafe, carbon monoxide hazard. Be sure your home has working CO detectors properly placed.
I have a baby crib stored in my parents attack. It probably has vermiculite insulation loosely laid between the floor boards. Is the crib safe if I clean it? - Pam 5/15/12
With respect, and not meaning to sound glib, if I cleaned a baby crib it would be safe. By text on a website one can't know what you would do. Elaborating: a baby crib that is made of all hard surface materials can be cleaned of surface dust by washing or perhaps even careful damp wiping. If there is a mattress that was not covered with something to keep it clean you may want to replace it to be perfectly safe.
I do not know that the vermiculite insulation in the location where the crib was stored contains asbestos, but sound advice is to assume so. The $50.+ you'd spend on testing is perhaps better spent on a new mattress and on cleaning.
We have a large amount of insulation and a few other materials in our home that we suspect are or contain asbestos and would like to know the proper way to collect a sample to send to an asbestos testing lab. - Anon. 5/30/12
>If despite the health risks or legal risks involvd you nevertheless choose to take the samples yourself, take care not to release asbestos fibers into the air or onto yourself. Material that is in good condition and will not be disturbed (by remodeling, for example) should be left alone.
>Only material that is damaged or will be disturbed should be sampled. Anyone who samples asbestos-containing materials should have as much information as possible on the handling of asbestos before sampling, and at a minimum, should observe the procedures described a ASBESTOS SAMPLE COLLECTION - and check with the lab's instructions when you contact a certified test lab via ASBESTOS TESTING LAB LIST
>(June 19, 2014) Mike Gilley said:
I'm removing ceramic tiles from a bathroom with intent to replace them and found an underlayment that appears porous and brown (not fibrous)--perhaps 2" thick. I can't tell if it was a poured, self leveling underlayment or sheet. Regardless, I'm looking input about whether the underlayment is likely to contain asbestos.
Mike I'm unclear on what the material is - from just your note. Hardboard underlayment would be typically 1/4" or thinner; a 2-inch porous brown material is not something I've come across under a floor. If it's hard I agree it may have been a leveling compound. If it's soft I'd guess it's an insulating board used as underlayment.
You can use the CONTACT link to send us some photos if you like.
I think that rather than spend $50 to $100 on testing for asbestos I'd treat the material as presumed-asbestos-containing just for safety & dust control.
>(Sept 25, 2014) email@example.com said:
I currently joined a gym with my two kids and they told me that it took long to open because it had asbestos. I had walked by and asked when it would open and they told me that upon renovating it they found it. Supposedly they cleaned it up but i want to cancel my membership and dont want to take that chance with my kids. What can i do. Am i obligated to go or can i cancel?
This is a question for you and your attorney, Yvette, someone who can review your contract.
If there was an asbestos hazard and if it were properly remediated, that cleanup would have included a final inspection and test to demonstrate that the cleanup was proper and complete. Beware lest you bail out of the cleaned-up facility and join another one where this or other hazards have not been identified or corrected
>(Nov 8, 2014) Chris said:
Is there someone I can send a picture to of the ceiling tiles in the house I am looking at? Built in 1952 - I just want an opinion on where to look for similar tiles or whether these are known. Thank you, Chris
>Sure Chris just use the email found at our CONTACT link seen at page top or bottom
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