If you own an older home with a “popcorn” style ceiling, you may be concerned that your ceiling contains asbestos. Although this type of asbestos-containing ceiling material was banned in 1979, manufacturers were permitted to use up their existing stocks. Popcorn ceiling asbestos may look like cottage cheese-like textured ceilings even if they were manufactured as late as the mid 1980s.
How Can I Find Out if I Have Popcorn Ceiling Asbestos?
Many home improvement sites recommend testing your popcorn ceiling to determine whether or not it contains any asbestos. This type of test is very inexpensive, but keep in mind that performing the test will require you to scrape away a small portion of ceiling material.
Asbestos poses a health risk when it is friable, meaning it crumbles or flakes easily, releasing tiny fibers which can then be inhaled. A popcorn ceiling in good condition should not be friable; however any action that you take to disturb the material (including scraping a small patch for a test) may create an exposure risk.
If you do choose to sample your ceiling material yourself, be sure to follow these guidelines from the Consumer Products Safety Commission:
- Make sure no one else is in the room when sampling is done.
- Wear disposable gloves or wash hands after sampling.
- Shut down any heating or cooling systems to minimize the spread of any released fibers.
- Do not disturb the material any more than is needed to take a small sample.
- Place a plastic sheet on the floor below the area to be sampled.
- Wet the material using a fine mist of water containing a few drops of detergent before taking the sample. The water/detergent mist will reduce the release of asbestos fibers.
- Carefully cut a piece from the entire depth of the material using, for example, a small knife, corer, or other sharp object. Place the small piece into a clean container (for example, a 35 mm film canister, small glass or plastic vial, or high quality resealable plastic bag).
- Tightly seal the container after the sample is in it.
- Carefully dispose of the plastic sheet. Use a damp paper towel to clean up any material on the outside of the container or around the area sampled. Dispose of asbestos materials according to state and local procedures.
- Label the container with an identification number and clearly state when and where the sample was taken.
- Patch the sampled area with the smallest possible piece of duct tape to prevent fiber release.
- Send the sample to an asbestos analysis laboratory accredited by the National Voluntary Laboratory Accreditation Program (NVLAP) at the National Institute of Standards and technology (NIST). A directory of NVLAP-accredited laboratories is available on the NVLAP web site, http://ts.nist.gov/nvlap. Your state or local health department may also be able to help.
The best way to test your popcorn ceiling for asbestos is to hire a licensed asbestos inspector to do the job for you, safely and competently. To find a licensed inspector in your state, contact your regional Environmental Protection Agency office.
What Should I Do if I Have Popcorn Ceiling Asbestos?
As strange as it may sound, the best thing to do may be to leave it alone. The Consumer Products Safety Commission offers this general guidance for homeowners confronted with asbestos: “THE BEST THING TO DO WITH ASBESTOS MATERIAL IN GOOD CONDITION IS TO LEAVE IT ALONE! Disturbing it may create a health hazard where none existed before.”
If your popcorn ceiling is damaged or crumbling, contact your regional EPA office to find a licensed asbestos abatement professional in your area. Do not attempt to repair or remove the material on your own.