Around the late 19th century, the use of the minerals known as asbestos was hitting its peak, at least in the United States and Canada. It started as a healthy mining business that begat uses in home construction and insulation, flame-and-acid-retardant materials, endless building materials (brick, concrete, drywall, flooring etc.) and even lawn furniture. In Japan, a few decades later, it was even used to help rice production, but even at that point, the alarming dangers of asbestos had been largely accepted and were commonly known in the UK and U.S., though the later was tragically late to the party in terms of regulation and education of the dangers.
So, it’s been a little over 70 years since the U.S. caught up to the UK, but the danger the material can cause to your loved ones is hardly a past matter: Cases of cancer in people who work with asbestos or live in close proximity to it are astonishingly higher than the norm. Asbestos is made of long thin fibers and looks similar to fiberglass in consistency. Because of the strengthening, heat resistance and soundproofing qualities, asbestos was used to mold a myriad of materials used in homes, including tiling and pipe insulation; it is even commonly found in the production of brake pads. Today, a little less than 850,000 homes, offices and schools can be found to include asbestos and over 20,000 people will die each year for the next 30 years from asbestos exposure. These are not good numbers.
It’s not easy: Asbestos is a notoriously tricky substance. If pained over, asbestos is not easy to locate in a regular home. Scraping and home construction can send asbestos particles into the air, where it can be breathed in by anyone. Even a second layer of wallboard shakes fibers loose, allowing the fibers to drift into the air you breathe. And sadly, this is one of those precautions that depends on professionally trained individuals being paid to do their job.
New coatings techniques enhance the encapsulation of asbestos in walls and ceilings, and have proven highly effective in diminishing the toxic elements of the material. Home asbestos test kits are available at most major home improvement stores, typically include 2 sample collectors, and are dependent on lab analysis, which will run you less than $20. Popcorn and textured ceilings, ceiling tiles, floor tiles and pipe insulation are major culprits and should be collected and tested as soon as possible. The laboratory test identifies asbestos fibers to as little as 1 percent content by weight and is more sensitive than the current EPA standards. So, take an afternoon, collect the samples while following the directions on the test kit closely, and send them into the lab. You’ll have your answer within two weeks and by that time, know if its time to give your home an overhaul or call the real estate agent.