What Does Asbestos Look Like? Identifying Asbestos Contamination

In 1989, the U.S. placed a partial ban on asbestos. The law prohibited new uses of the cancer-causing mineral. Yet, the federal government didn’t ban buildings, homes, and products already built or manufactured with the carcinogen. Most asbestos-containing materials (ACMs) weren’t forcibly removed from circulation either. As a result, contamination testing can still identify unsafe levels of asbestos in thousands of homes and household products across the country.

Homeowners and construction workers usually interact with ACM during renovation work on older structures. You can’t tell which materials are contaminated with asbestos just by looking at them. Some products have an ACM warning label (like some electrical fuse boxes) but many do not.

Three types of asbestos (crocidolite, amosite, and chrysotile) usually appear as blue, brown, or white fibers under a microscope. However, the fibers are generally too small to see with the naked eye. Moreover, they’re so weightless they can stay afloat in the air for several days.

Asbestos is often found in:

  • Adhesives
  • Bathroom tile
  • Boilers
  • Bricks
  • Ceiling tiles
  • Cement
  • Cladding
  • Drywall
  • Exterior siding
  • Fibro
  • Fire blankets
  • Fireproofed rope
  • Gas meter panels
  • Insulation
  • Kitchen tiles
  • Paints
  • Partitions
  • Pipes and lagging
  • Plaster
  • Popcorn ceilings
  • Shingles
  • Soffits
  • Textured paint
  • Weatherboard
  • Windowsills

Can You Identify Asbestos By Smell?

Sometimes you can tell your home is contaminated by the smell. Gas leaks and some kinds of mold cause noticeable odors. Asbestos, however, does not have a smell. Rooms with the carcinogen built into the floors, walls, and ceiling do not have a detectable odor. Even heavy amounts of asbestos dust are odorless or smell like normal dust.

Yet, people usually inhale tiny (nearly invisible) asbestos particles through the nose or mouth. Inside the body, these particles attach to tissues in the chest and gut. Once it enters the body, no surgery or other technique will remove asbestos.

Asbestos Testing

Testing for contamination is the only way to confirm the presence of asbestos. Typically, professionals trained to handle ACM without spreading it test for asbestos. Depending on the amount of contamination, asbestos abatement (removal) may be required before construction can resume.

Older homes don’t need to be asbestos tested when building materials (such as walls, plumbing, and electrical wiring) won’t be damaged or moved by remodeling. If you suspect the material has asbestos but it’s still in good condition, do not disturb it.

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Hiring Professionals to Identify Asbestos

In addition to Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) laws, each state generally regulates the use and removal of ACM. You can find state-approved asbestos testing professionals on most county and city services websites.

To avoid a conflict of interest, ensure the assessment individual or company you hire isn’t connected to the asbestos abatement or removal company. Also, make sure to verify their asbestos training (documented by an official federal or state board).

What Should I Do If I Inhaled Asbestos?

Often, side effects of unsafe exposure take years or decades to develop. Abdominal swelling, a recurring fever, and persistent cough are some symptoms of asbestos-caused illnesses.

Asbestos-related diseases include:

There are no immediate symptoms of asbestos exposure. Consequently, you may not know of your exposure to the carcinogen right away (or for years). Those who inhale asbestos and are concerned should get tested. Early cancer detection generally opens up more treatment opportunities for mesothelioma patients.

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