Asbestos is the name for several heat- and corrosion-resistant minerals. Beginning around World War II, asbestos was widely used in a variety of products, such as insulation and flooring, because of this durability.
Why Asbestos is Dangerous
When they’re disturbed, asbestos fibers float in the air and can be inhaled. With exposure, the fibers can build up in the lungs and lead to scarring as well as cancer, according to the U.S. National Institutes of Health.
While many uses of asbestos were banned in the 1970s, the minerals are still used in some products—such as roofing shingles and heat-resistant items (such as the walls around wood-burning stoves). The health risks are higher for people who work with asbestos, according to the National Cancer Institute.
But that’s not to say that you should go on a hunt in your home for items made with asbestos: When contained, it’s safe to be around asbestos, according to the Mayo Clinic. It’s when asbestos is disturbed and fibers are released into the air that it can be breathed in, posing a health risk.
How to Test for Asbestos
If your home was built before the 1970s, it’s likely to contain materials with asbestos. But, it’s still possible that materials containing the substance were used in your home, even if it is more modern, since asbestos is still allowed in certain building materials.
If you suspect asbestos in your home, leave testing to the experts. The United States Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) recommends calling in a professional, who can safely take a sample and test it.
How to Prevent Asbestos from Getting Into the Air
Having asbestos in your home only presents a problem if it’s not contained, per the CPSC. If it’s contained, you can leave it be.
If, however, materials are fraying or damaged and you’re concerned that they might contain asbestos, the EPA recommends that you reach out to an accredited asbestos inspector or contractor, who can help you determine and carry out next steps.
Smart Tip: State-level agencies often have resources to help you find a pro.
Repairs can take one of two forms:
- Encapsulation, which uses a sealant to bind or contain asbestos fibers.
- Enclosure, where other materials are used to cover the asbestos so no fibers can be released.
Note that in both methods, you’re not removing the asbestos—you’re simply preventing a situation where the fibers can be released and inhaled. Both treatment tactics require a professional, and aren’t DIY jobs. You’ll also want to reach out to experts before doing a home renovation so you don’t inadvertently disturb asbestos.