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Asbestos authorAsbestos
by Gerry Aubrey of Blue Bell Consulting, Inc.
05-11-2004

“I missed out on asbestos, I’m not going to miss out on mold.” This is a quote from a fine member of the legal profession present at a mold seminar I attended in Atlanta in October. The impetus for the national concern about asbestos has been fueled far more by the legal and financial consequences than by the health problems. Asbestos has again become a hot topic in Ambler Borough with the discovery of asbestos in the Mattison Avenue Elementary school. Asbestos is a mineral that has high resistance to heat and fire. It was used extensively in the first half of the 20th century in building construction. It was also used in everything from automobiles to ships. Ambler was a major player in the production of asbestos during that period. The white cliffs of Ambler are monuments to that era. Asbestos can become a health concern. If the material is in a friable or crumbling state it can be inhaled and damage the lungs. Asbestos, when damaged, breaks down into tiny microscopic particles.   These particles become air born and if inhaled, settle into the lower cavities of the lungs. Once there, they don’t leave. They remain there for years and become an irritant. The lungs then try and protect themselves from the irritant and develop a growth. This growth reduces the lung capacity of the lungs and eventually develops into asbestosis, a cancer like condition that can be fatal. Not everyone who is exposed develops asbestosis, but if you smoke and are exposed, you are far more likely to develop asbestosis or lung cancer.

The statistics on those exposed to small amounts of asbestos and contracting related health problems are extremely small. The workers who suffered serious health problems were generally exposed to large amounts of asbestos for extended periods of time. If trace amounts of asbestos were found in your child’s school, it is hardly a reason for panic.

If your home was built before World War II, the chance of you having asbestos in your home is very high. A common use of the product was wrapping heating pipes, particularly homes with steam heat. If your pipes are wrapped with a cardboard type material and you are not sure of its composition, call 1-301-975-NIST, (6478). This is a federal agency that will give you a list of accredited testing laboratories to test a sample. Their website is www.nist.gov. The asbestos used as pipe insulation can be a health concern, and should be addressed. Popular Mechanics wrote instructions for encapsulating it in 1986. The EPA does not endorse their recommendations. Their recommendations are:

  1. Wear safety clothing and a respirator with a type H filter cartridge.

  2. Spray soapy water over the material.

  3. Wrap it in plastic kitchen wrap. (Home Depot has great plastic wrap that they use when you purchase materials you tie on the roof of your car.)

  4. Wrap with good quality UL approved duct tape. Don’t use the common grey material that Tim Allen pushed on Home Improvements. It dries out in about a year.

  5. Paint the tape with acrylic latex paint and dispose of the clothing.

If you have 9 inch square floor tiles, the best approach is to leave them there, and cover them with another flooring material. Asbestos is often found in concrete siding and roofing materials developed in the 1920’s but used extensively through the 1960’s. It is often found in old roofing felt paper. Asbestos, if not air borne, is not a health concern. It is a good example of let sleeping dogs lie.

Additional sources of information on asbestos are the Consumer Products Safety Commission who can be reached at 1-800-490-9198, and www.epa.gov. Additional information on the health concerns of asbestos can be found in “Asbestos Fears Overblown?” in the Journal of Light Construction, Issue #7, 1990. Another article on the subject is “Asbestos Fears Out of Proportion to Health Risk, Harvard Study Says,” found in the ASHI Reporter 1990. If we listen to every health official and follow their recommendations perfectly we would live in tunnels to protect us from the sun, wear respirators that protect us from polluted air, and not eat, since practically everything we eat has been known to be toxic in one form or another. In some cases it’s from the food itself, others from the additives, and others from the handling or preparation process. Asbestos, like most health concerns, was on this planet when we arrived, and will be here when we leave.


Gerry Aubrey is President of Blue Bell Consulting, Inc. His company has been specializing in home inspection services in Southeastern Pennsylvania and New Jersey areas since 1994. He has been in the construction industry since 1970 and is a Member of the American Society of Home Inspectors. Visit his company website at www.homeinspect1.com, send him an E-mail, or call his office at 1-888-336-B-E-L-L (2355) for more information.

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