How Do I Know What Asbestos Looks Like?

Written by robert korpella
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According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), "You can't tell whether a material contains asbestos simply by looking at it, unless it is labelled." The only way to know for certain is to have suspect material tested by a trained professional with samples positively identified in an EPA certified laboratory. However, there are ways you can decide whether a material might contain asbestos by a combination of when it was made, how it is used and its appearance.

Skill level:

Things you need

  • EPA certified asbestos service

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  1. 1

    Determine when suspect material was produced. Manufacturers began to stop including asbestos in products during the mid- to late-1970s. Products made prior to this time and still in place today may contain asbestos fibres.

  2. 2

    Determine where asbestos was most likely used. As a thermal and acoustic insulator, the material was included in insulation for homes, pipes and ductwork, as well as for furnace linings and bases, sound-absorbing wall and ceiling sprays, exterior shingles, vinyl flooring, roof shingles and electrical wiring insulation. Use extreme caution when inspecting suspect substances since asbestos poses immediate health risks if allowed to be airborne. Do not try to remove samples where fibres may have come loose. Be especially cautious in crawl spaces or attics where asbestos fibres can become airborne if disturbed. Call an EPA certified asbestos service instead to have samples taken and identified.

  3. 3

    Examine the appearance of insulation and furnace linings to determine whether the presence of asbestos is a possibility. Friable (crumbly) white or off-white coatings, wraps that look like the plaster doctors use to set broken bones and wraps that look like an off-white coloured corrugated cardboard are clues to the possible presence of asbestos. Furnace linings sometimes look like a greyish-white stone.

Tips and warnings

  • Since asbestos products were made to look like non-asbestos products, telling the difference between them can be difficult.
  • Stay away from peeling, chipping or broken insulation and other products that you suspect may contain asbestos based on their appearance, age and usage. Asbestos fibres are one thousandth the thickness of a human hair and can be quickly assimilated into the lungs.

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