Asbestos – Where is the danger, how real is the risk?

I recently inspected a home that had some possible asbestos containing vermiculite in the attic and some possible asbestos wrap on the furnace plenums. Furthermore there was likely some asbestos in the floor tiles in the entry and the basement.  So what now? Should you the buyer walk away in order to save yourself from asbestos contamination.  Ultimately the short answer is, its up to you but before you react I believe you need to look at the situation from an educated perspective.

First of all asbestos exposure is known to be the leading cause of a cancer called Mesothelioma. Every year according to researchers in the United States between 14 and 30 people in every million are diagnosed with Mesothelioma.  As scary as this sounds I feel it is important to point out that it is the long term exposure  or highly concentrated short term exposure to asbestos that causes the cancer. In an average home built between 1940 and 1978 there were thousands of products produced which contained asbestos, many of those were construction materials for residential and commercial buildings.

When you consider the types of products where asbestos fibres were used you soon begin to realize that the risk of those fibres becoming friable or air born is very small. For the most part many of the building materials we see which contain asbestos are safe so long as you do not disturb them. Look at floor tiles for example. Most of us went to school in buildings that had asbestos type floor tiles. We walked on those tiles for a dozen years with no adverse effects on our health because the asbestos was encased in the material and we could not breath it in which is where it begins to affect our health. It is estimated that it takes between 25 -50 years for an overdose of asbestos to form into Mesothelioma. Imagine how many times you take your life into your own hands by driving in rush hour traffic in that amount of time.

Don’t get me wrong , Mesothelioma is a terrible disease that claims too many people in our society and we need to do all we can to prevent the over exposure to asbestos where practical. To this point in my research I have not come across any evidence that would lead me to believe that very short term low exposure to asbestos building materials will shorten your life. The real danger is to the men and women that worked in industries and professions which caused over exposure to friable asbestos. If you worked in an asbestos mine it is likely you will suffer the consequences.  Another high risk but less obvious occupation is for renovators who were unaware of the dangers of dismantling the homes that contained asbestos products. You notice I used the word unaware. If you are planning a renovation that requires the removal of products that you know contain asbestos you should consult a remediation company that is trained in this type of work. If you are not sure if the product is asbestos you can hire someone like Border home inspections to sample the material and send it to the lab for analysis.

The bottom line is to know what you are dealing with and understand the dangers. For most situations I believe the risk of exposure is very low. Once again if you are planning on disturbing a known asbestos containing material you must prepare and protect yourself and your home beforehand.  Remember that almost all homes build between 1940 and 1978 in the Midwest and across the country have some asbestos containing materials in them. In my opinion this fact should not cause you to walk away from a perfectly safe and healthy home.  Please refer to the site below for more information.

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