How to identify asbestos in construction

Written by susan reynolds
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How to identify asbestos in construction
Asbestos as it looks under an electron microscope. (Image by Asbestorama; Flickr.)

Exposure to asbestos is dangerous -- health problems that may arise include mesothelioma and lung cancer. When you are attempting to identify asbestos, you should first know the age of the building, as most homes and industrial buildings constructed between the 1920s and the 1970s contain some asbestos. Unfortunately, the substance is hard to identify just by looking at it. Construction samples have to be sent to an environmental laboratory to positively identify that it contains asbestos.

Skill level:
Moderate

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Things you need

  • Gloves
  • Mask
  • Plastic bags

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Instructions

  1. 1

    Older homes are very likely to contain asbestos, but it is only dangerous when the fibres are exposed and travel through the air. If the asbestos is tightly enclosed within a roof tile, for example, there is little likelihood that a person can breathe it in. Asbestos can be found in roofing products, ceilings, vinyl tiles and insulation material.

  2. 2

    Asbestos is dangerous when it is exposed to the air, because then it can travel into the lungs. Tiny asbestos particles can get trapped in the lungs and cause cancer later in life. Look for broken or exposed pieces of construction -- particularly insulation, which holds the asbestos loosely within the fibres. Cement and tiles that are cracked or broken can expose the asbestos to the air and cause health problems.

  3. 3

    Wear a mask and gloves to remove pieces of construction that may contain asbestos. Place them into a plastic bag to have them identified under a microscope by an asbestos expert, or send the samples to an asbestos lab. A layperson cannot identify asbestos with the naked eye but, if it is an older building, it likely contains asbestos.

  4. 4

    Have the asbestos removed by a professional. Dealing with this material is risky, as there should be certain precautions taken to ensure that contamination is contained. While asbestos removal can be expensive, health is more important than the cost.

Tips and warnings

  • Leave the sample gathering to asbestos professionals, as they are aware of the safety risks involved.
  • Pipes that contain asbestos can become a serious danger if the asbestos is exposed, and these pipes should be replaced immediately.

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