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Asbestos is a mineral fiber once commonly used in a variety of products due to its insulating and fire-retardant properties. It was used in a wide range of manufactured goods, including:

  • building materials (roofing shingles, ceiling and floor tiles, paper products, and asbestos cement products)

  • friction products (automobile clutch, brake, and transmission parts)

  • heat-resistant fabrics, packaging, gaskets, and coatings.

Image of Asbestos on pipes

Asbestos may be found in one of two forms: friable or non-friable.

  • Friable asbestos can be crumbled, pulverized or powdered by hand pressure. Friable asbestos presents an inhalation risk because asbestos fibers are more easily released into the air. Examples of friable asbestos include sprayed fireproofing on structural steelwork or thermal insulation on pipes.

  • Non-friable asbestos products are those where the fibers are bound or locked into the product, so that the fibers are not readily released.

Examples of non-friable asbestos products include vinyl asbestos floor tiles, acoustic ceiling tiles, and asbestos cement products.  These products present a risk only when they are handled in a way that creates dust containing asbestos fibers which can be inhaled. When asbestos-containing materials are damaged or disturbed by repair, remodeling, or demolition activities, microscopic fibers can become airborne if proper controls are not in place. This can result in the potential for significant health problems.


Potential Sources of Asbestos

Image of Asbestos on roof

According to information from the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC), the few products currently made which still contain asbestos that could be inhaled are required to be labeled as such. However, until the 1970s, many types of building products and insulation materials used in homes contained asbestos.

Examples of these products include:

  • Roofing and siding shingles made of asbestos cement

  • Insulation in some houses built between 1930 and 1950

  • Some textured paint and in patching compounds used on wall and ceiling joints (their use was banned in 1977)

  • Some vinyl floor tiles and the backing on vinyl sheet flooring and adhesives

  • Hot water and steam pipes in older houses may be coated with an asbestos material or covered with an asbestos blanket or tape

The CSPC website entitled Asbestos in the Home provides more information on potential sources of asbestos in building materials and other products.


Health Effects of Asbestos Exposure

Image of Asbestos Infected Lungs
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Exposure to airborne asbestos may result in a potential health risk due to the inhalation of asbestos fibers. Fibers embedded in lung tissue over time may cause serious lung diseases including asbestosis, lung cancer, or mesothelioma. Smoking increases the risk of developing illness from asbestos exposure.

If you are concerned about possible exposure to friable asbestos, consult a physician who specializes in lung diseases (pulmonologist).

Three of the major health effects associated with asbestos exposure include:

  • Asbestosis - Asbestosis is a serious, progressive, long-term non-cancerous disease of the lungs. It is caused by inhaling asbestos fibers that irritate lung tissues and cause the tissues to scar. The scarring makes it hard for oxygen to get into the blood. Symptoms of asbestosis include shortness of breath and a dry, crackling sound in the lungs while inhaling. There is no effective treatment for asbestosis.

  • Lung Cancer - Lung cancer causes the largest number of deaths related to asbestos exposure. People who work in the mining, milling, manufacturing of asbestos, and those who use asbestos and its products are more likely to develop lung cancer than the general population. The most common symptoms of lung cancer are coughing and a change in breathing. Other symptoms include shortness of breath, persistent chest pains, hoarseness, and anemia.

  • Mesothelioma - Mesothelioma is a rare form of cancer that is found in the thin lining (membrane) of the lung, chest, abdomen, and heart and almost all cases are linked to exposure to asbestos. This disease may not show up until many years after asbestos exposure. This is why great efforts are being made to prevent school children from being exposed.




Managing Asbestos in Your Home

According to the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission, you can't tell whether a material contains asbestos simply by looking at it, unless it is labeled. If in doubt, treat the material as if it contains asbestos or have it sampled and analyzed by a qualified professional.

A professional should take samples for analysis, since a professional knows what to look for, and because there may be an increased health risk if fibers are released. In fact, if done incorrectly, sampling can be more hazardous than leaving the material alone.


What if I Disturb Asbestos?

The best thing to do is to leave asbestos-containing material that is in good condition alone.

Before you have your house remodeled, you should find out whether asbestos-containing materials are present. If asbestos-containing materials become 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.

Image of areas in the home that may have Asbestos

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Asbestos Do's And Don'ts for the Homeowner

✔ Do keep activities to a minimum in any areas having damaged material that may contain asbestos.

✔ Do take every precaution to avoid damaging asbestos material.

✔ Do have removal and major repair done by people trained and qualified in handling asbestos. It is highly recommended that sampling and minor repair also be done by asbestos professionals.

 Don't dust, sweep, or vacuum debris that may contain asbestos.

 Don't saw, sand, scrape, or drill holes in asbestos materials.

 Don't use abrasive pads or brushes on power strippers to strip wax from asbestos flooring.

 Don't sand or try to level asbestos flooring or its backing. When asbestos flooring needs replacing, install new floor covering over it, if possible.

 Don't track material that could contain asbestos through the house. If you cannot avoid walking through the area, have it cleaned with a wet mop. If the material is from a damaged area, or if a large area must be cleaned, call an asbestos professional.


Finding a Licensed Asbestos Contractor

Image of workers clearing asbestos

Asbestos professionals are trained in handling asbestos material. The type of professional will depend on the type of product and what needs to be done to correct the problem. You may hire a general asbestos contractor or, in some cases, a professional trained to handle specific products containing asbestos.

Asbestos professionals can conduct home inspections, take samples of suspected material, assess its condition, and advise about what corrections are needed and who is qualified to make these corrections. Once again, material in good condition need not be sampled unless it is likely to be disturbed.

Some firms offer combinations of testing, assessment, and correction. A professional hired to assess the need for corrective action should not be connected with an asbestos-correction firm. It is better to use two different firms so there is no conflict of interest.


Finding a Contractor

Companies that remove, repair, or encapsulate asbestos-containing materials in Maryland must be licensed by the Maryland Department of the Environment (MDE). A license is valid for one year and must be renewed annually. A list of licensed asbestos contractors can be found on the MDE website.

In addition, MDE maintains a list of companies that provide air quality testing, including testing for the presence of asbestos. The companies on this list are not required to be licensed, so consumers should request information regarding the credentials, training, and experience provided by a company they may retain.

Before hiring a professional, ask for references from previous clients. Find out if they were satisfied. Ask whether the professional has handled similar situations. Get cost estimates from several professionals, as the charges for these services can vary.

In addition to general asbestos contractors, you may select a roofing, flooring, or plumbing contractor trained to handle asbestos when it is necessary to remove and replace roofing, flooring, siding, or asbestos-cement pipe that is part of a water system. Normally, roofing and flooring contractors are exempt from state and local licensing requirements because they do not perform any other asbestos-correction work.

The CSPC website entitled Asbestos in the Home  provides more information on utilizing an asbestos professional for sampling and abatement activities.


Asbestos Regulations

Asbestos remediation activities in Maryland are regulated by the Maryland Department of the Environment (MDE).  Their primary focus is asbestos in friable form.  Friable asbestos must be removed from any building prior to renovation or demolition activities with the potential to release asbestos into the air.  This removal must be performed by an asbestos professional licensed by MDE. 

Information on MDE’s asbestos program can be found at the Asbestos and Industrial Hygiene page of MDE’s website or by calling 410-537-3000.

Non-friable asbestos may be found in older homes in siding, shingles, and floor tiles.  If renovation or demolition activities result in the removal of these materials, care should be taken to prevent the sanding, grinding, cutting, etc. of this material in a manner that creates dust containing asbestos.  Removal of these materials does not require a licensed asbestos professional.  If possible, the removed asbestos-containing materials should be bagged separately.  These materials can be taken to the Shady Grove Transfer Station for disposal.