Asbestos is a mineral fibre that was added to a variety of building products and insulation materials until the 1970s. After research showed that people who were exposed to asbestos and breathed high levels of the asbestos fibres were at greater risk of developing lung cancer and other diseases, use of asbestos has been limited. According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, asbestos might still be present in ceilings' textured paint, patching compounds and ceiling tiles used before 1977. If you suspect asbestos in your home, the EPA recommends steps to minimise your exposure.
If you aren't sure whether your ceiling contains asbestos, treat it as if it does. Don't work on the ceiling or start a project that might disturb asbestos fibres. Typically, you can't tell by looking whether asbestos is present in your ceiling, unless it is labelled as such. So if you are not sure, treat it as if it contains asbestos.
Leave the ceiling alone if it is in good condition and doesn't require work or remodelling. According to the EPA, materials in good condition don't release asbestos. Check the ceiling regularly (without touching it) for wear or damage, including water damage. Damaged materials can release asbestos fibres.
Limit access to the area underneath a damaged ceiling where you suspect there is asbestos. Don't touch, hit or rub the ceiling, because that could expose any asbestos.
Call or visit your regional environmental or health office to obtain a list of asbestos professionals in your area. Professional asbestos inspectors are trained in handling asbestos material and certified by your state to test for asbestos. According to the EPA, if done incorrectly, testing for asbestos can be more hazardous than leaving the material alone.
Hire a professional asbestos inspector to safely take a sample from your ceiling and takes it to a lab to test it for asbestos fibres using a special microscope.
Don't sand, scrape, drill holes in or use abrasive pads or brushes on a ceiling that you think might contain asbestos. The EPA recommends that any minor or major repairs on materials suspected of containing asbestos be done by asbestos professionals.