AES Answers Your FAQs About Asbestos

Q: What dangers are associated with asbestos?

A: Asbestos – particularly the “friable” form of this material (disperses airborne particles when disturbed) – was widely used as an insulation product, and is recognized as a hazardous material. The danger to human health emanates from conditions where the asbestos fibers become airborne, and people in those environments inhale the fibers into their lungs. People subjected to these conditions have been shown to be at risk of developing cancer and other serious health problems.

Q: Why is vermiculite (a.k.a. “zonolite”) a problem?

A: Vermiculite is a mined product that was used extensively as insulation in homes and commercial buildings during the 1970’s and 1980’s. Vermiculite materials have been known to be contaminated with tremolite, an especially dangerous type of ‘friable’ asbestos mineral with needle-like fibers that are invisible to the naked eye, thus making them a very real health concern. These vermiculite materials are found today in many buildings across the country.

Q: How do I know if I have a problem?

A: Laboratory testing is the only way of confirming that asbestos is present in vermiculite or other materials. However, negative results from testing can be falsely reassuring when less than 1% of the sample is asbestos. Disturbing contaminated material with less than 1% asbestos can still result in hazardous concentrations of airborne asbestos fibers. The best approach is to presume that the vermiculite material contains asbestos, and call for professional help to determine next steps.

Q: What should I do/not do if I suspect asbestos contamination?

A: If you do have vermiculite in your attic placed prior to 1990, you can probably assume that it is contaminated. If in fact you do have vermiculite in your attic, the basic recommendation is to not disturb it. The danger is when the asbestos fibers get airborne. This is not 'do-it-yourself,' job and don't trust just any renovator to know how to protect themselves and the rest of your household. Get qualified professional asbestos remediation experts to deal with the removal issues.

Q: What cautionary practices should be followed in contaminated work areas?

A: The best solution is to have the vermiculite removed by professionals before you start. If you must undertake renovations that may stir up vermiculite material, then you must treat it as a serious hazardous situation. In a work area containing vermiculite, safety precautions should be strictly followed to limit potential asbestos inhalation, including:

  • Using proper respiratory protection
  • Avoiding the handling or disturbance of loose vermiculite if at all possible
  • Isolating work areas with temporary plastic barriers or enclosures
  • Using wet control methods if feasible
  • Avoiding use of compressed air for cleaning as well as dry sweeping or other dry clean-up methods
  • Using disposable protective clothing or clothing that is left in the contained work area

Q: How are asbestos materials removed effectively?

A: Removal of asbestos materials by professionals typically involves the deployment of disposable overalls, asbestos-proof respirators, area containment, negative air pressure in the contained work area to prevent spreading of the contaminants, HEPA vacuum cleaners, and a hazardous waste clean-up protocol, including safe disposal of the contaminated material.

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