Despite the fact that asbestos is a known carcinogen and causes cancer in people, there is no comprehensive asbestos ban in the U.S. Many companies have, however, voluntarily removed asbestos from their products and there are some regulations on the amounts of asbestos allowed in certain types of products.  But that is today.  In the past there were no such rules or voluntary bans.  This means that millions of older homes may still contain asbestos.  In fact, according to the EPA, various types of building products and insulation used in homes contained asbestos until the 1970’s. This means that if you are buying or selling a home built before the 1980’s there is a chance that there is some asbestos in that home.

If there is asbestos in your home does that mean it is a health risk. According to the EPA – not necessarily. According to conventional wisdom, if asbestos fibers are not “friable” or airborne then it poses little risk. This does make sense; after all if the fibers are not airborne how can they be inhaled or ingested? On the other hand having intact asbestos materials today does not mean that it does not become airborne tomorrow.

Therefore, it is a good idea to know where asbestos may be found inside of a house. Here are some common products that might have contained asbestos in homes built before 1980:

  • Steam pipes, boilers and furnace ducts
  • Vinyl asbestos, asphalt, and rubber floor tiles
  • Cement sheet, millboard, and paper cement sheets used as insulation around furnaces and wood burning stoves
  • Door gaskets in furnaces and stoves.
  • Soundproofing or decorative materials sprayed on walls and ceilings such as “popcorn ceilings”
  • Patching and joint compounds for walls and ceilings
  • Textured paints
  • Insulation
  • Asbestos roofing, shingles, and siding
  • Artificial embers and ashes used in gas fireplaces

Repairing, removing, scraping, cutting, tearing, sanding, or drilling any of these materials could release asbestos fibers and make them airborne.  Therefore these activities should never be performed unless one is absolutely sure that the materials do not contain asbestos.

As a real estate professional what should you do? As a professional you have a responsibility to yourself and others to not violate any safety rules, regulations or laws and to abide by your state realtor codes of conduct.  Therefore, you should learn how to recognize asbestos containing materials, avoid debris, and only allow EPA certified building inspectors to take samples if asbestos is suspected.  In addition, you should never engage in asbestos removal activities.  Finally, you should contact the appropriate health and asbestos authorities if you suspect that there is asbestos in a house that represents a danger to its occupants or others.

Because so few home owners, real estate buyers or sellers are aware of the dangers posed by asbestos, the more you know the more you can be a helpful resource to others. Asbestos causes asbestosis, mesothelioma and other diseases. Most of these diseases are incurable so becoming knowledgeable about this carcinogen can be a life saver!