The construction industry was the heaviest user of asbestos products. It was used in floor and ceiling tiles, roofing materials, insulation, textured paints and coatings, spray insulation, duct wrap, and drywall. If you live or work in an older facility, you may be worried about being exposed to asbestos – and this is a very real concern. Asbestos fibers are microscopic – hundreds of times finer than a human hair – so you will never know you’ve been exposed.
So how do you know if there’s asbestos in your drywall?
If your home or work site was built from the 1950s through the 1980s, there is a very strong likelihood that asbestos is in the drywall. It was added to drywall to make it more noise absorbent, improve fire resistant capabilities and to make the drywall stronger. Even once it was no longer in common usage for new home and commercial construction, the drywall already in place was still there and still contains the toxic fiber.
What’s scary about asbestos in drywall is that, depending on the structure of the material, even sanding it could release the fibers and sanding is a common activity many people take prior to repainting, after spackling or when renovating. Any time you disturb drywall that contains asbestos, there’s a potential to release the fibers. When dust is released and inhaled, it may contain the potentially deadly fibers and you’ll never know your health has been impaired.
Assuming versus testing
If the structure was built in the 80s or prior, it’s best to assume there’s asbestos in the drywall and other building materials. This means that you shouldn’t do serious renovations without professional help. Intrusive sanding, cutting into walls or ceilings to install fixtures or outlets, removing or cutting down walls in renovations all have the potential to sicken your family. Even pulling down decades old wallpaper can release asbestos fibers into the air.
If you want to be certain, you can have your walls tested. You can bring someone in to collect and test your samples or you can do a DIY test yourself. Western Analytical is one of the many labs that offers reasonably priced self-asbestos testing. Click here to read detailed directions for DIY testing to minimize risk. Tips include shutting off HVAC so there’s no air blowing, spreading plastic under the area where you’ll take the sample, wearing gloves and thoroughly wetting the area so that dry fibers aren’t released. If you’re worried about the risk, have an external firm come in to test your walls.
The bottom line – you can’t know for sure without testing
There is no way to look at drywall and know whether asbestos is present. The same goes for your tiles and other building materials. The fibers are microscopic and there is absolutely no way for you to detect them on your own. Use professional contractors knowledgeable about working with asbestos if you need to do any work that will disrupt potentially asbestos-containing materials. Even though asbestos is a known cause of cancer, the US still allows its use in products.
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