Angie’s List: How to Safely Deal with Asbestos

This is an archived article and the information in the article may be outdated. Please look at the time stamp on the story to see when it was last updated.

If your home is more than 30 years old, it likely has asbestos in it. That’s fine – unless you remodel and then grind or sand the asbestos contained in the floor tiles, insulation or roofing materials and create a hazardous dust, which could eventually lead to respiratory issues or even cancer.

Asbestos is a natural mineral. It’s a good insulator and fire resistant, which is why it’s still used in some building materials.

“If it’s big enough to see, you can’t breathe it. And so it’s the fine dust that’s produced when it’s mishandled that’s the problem," Environmental Management Institute's Jack Leonard said.

If you have peeling plaster or drywall, or if you plan a project that requires grinding, sanding or sawing that will produce dust, you should have those materials tested for asbestos.

“As long as the asbestos is intact, as we talked about earlier, not a big problem. But if you’ve got a little leakage from the upstairs bathroom and the stuff is kind of peeling off, that could be serious," Leonard said.

Before the project starts, find a qualified asbestos inspector. The county or state health department may be able to help.

“Many states require that inspection companies be licensed. Also, it’s not a bad idea to find out if they’re also lead paint certified because that requires similar training and tools," Angie Hicks said.

Before work begins, ask your pro how the dust will be confined to the work area and separate from the rest of your home. Leonard recommends a direct approach.

“I want to make sure that you don’t release any more dust into my home than what you would do if you knew there was lead-based paint there. You do that and you’ll be safe," Leonard said.

Experts recommend sealing off the entire work area with plastic sheeting and leaving the heating or air conditioning systems off when the work is being done. Once the work is complete, Angie says it’s a good idea to have the air tested to make sure there aren’t any microscopic asbestos fibers still floating around.