Jacy Marmaduke, Feb 17, 2017
The Environmental Protection Agency is considering more restrictions on the use of asbestos, the cancer-causing fiber that’s more common in Fort Collins than you might expect.
Some uses of asbestos are banned, but others are legal. It’s safe to assume your home might contain some asbestos, especially if it was built before the mid-1970s.
There’s no need to panic over the presence of asbestos in your home, local removal experts say, but you should be aware of the risks of potential exposure.
As the EPA approaches a late-2019 deadline to decide whether asbestos poses an “unreasonable risk” to people and the environment, here’s what to know about the silky, potentially lethal fibers that might lie in your floor tiles or pipe insulation:
1. The EPA tried to ban most uses of asbestos a long time ago because exposure is proven to be a health hazard.
Asbestos use dates back thousands of years, when ancient Egyptians weaved its hairy fibers into cloths to wrap around embalmed pharaohs. Adding asbestos to materials made them heat-resistant and super-durable. It was basically a miracle fiber.
Only problem is, inhaling the near-invisible fibers can lead to respiratory illness, namely mesothelioma and lung cancer.
The EPA started banning certain uses in the early ’70s, and around the same time asbestos use in general declined. But in 1991, an appeals court overturned a 1989 EPA rule that outright banned most uses of asbestos. Since then, many uses have remained technically legal.
2. Asbestos comes in many forms.
There are few obvious visual cues that a building material contains asbestos, said Steven Morrow, owner of Timnath-based Risk Removal, which performs asbestos abatement and other services in Colorado, Wyoming and Nebraska. He said asbestos abatement makes up about 90 percent of the company’s projects.
The only way to really know whether a material contains asbestos, meaning it’s at least 1 percent asbestos, is to have it professionally tested.
Homes and other buildings built between the 1950s and 1970s are more likely than others to contain asbestos, but they’re not the only ones.
“I think it’s a mistake to say, ‘My home was built in 2001 after some of these bans took place, so I don’t have asbestos,’ ” Morrow said. “That’s not necessarily accurate, because these materials are still out there.”
Common uses for asbestos — and there used to be a lot — according to the EPA and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention include:
Modern-day roofing materials, vinyl tile, imported cement pipe and corrugated sheeting
Pre-1975 ceiling and floor tiles
Pre-’75 pipe insulation
Pre-’75 roofing and siding shingles
Pre-’75 textured paints and patching compounds used on walls and ceilings
3. You don’t have to obliterate all traces of asbestos from your home.
If you discover you have asbestos in your home, you don’t necessarily need to pay for abatement, which can be time-intensive and costly. Asbestos-containing materials are only dangerous if disturbed or damaged, so if you’re making renovations or a pipe bursts, that’s when you might consider abatement.
Tim Jones, Risk Removal’s business development director, said the best approach is to leave building materials alone until you’re sure they don’t contain asbestos.
“Be very aware of the potential impacts of working in attics or running cables through walls that may have asbestos in them,” Jones said. “There’s a lot of opportunities to disturb insulation and asbestos-containing materials in other ways than just going in and deciding to pull down a ceiling or a wall.”
What’s next for asbestos
The EPA announced in December that asbestos is among 10 chemicals it will evaluate as part of the Toxic Substances Control Act, which Congress reformed in June.
By the end of 2019, and possibly sooner, the EPA will release a risk assessment for asbestos and the other named chemicals.
If the agency decides asbestos poses an unreasonable risk, it can move to ban or more intensely regulate asbestos use.