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Asbestos in Home: Avoid Risk of Doing Too Much

July 20, 1986|EVELYN De WOLFE | Times Staff Writer

What do you do if you find asbestos--linked to lung cancer and other diseases--in your home?

In most cases, as little as possible, the experts advise.

They warn that great harm can come from disturbing the material where it exists, thereby risking the loosening of invisible asbestos fibers that have a tendency to break easily, float in the air and then settle on objects and adhere to clothing.

The advice is contained in a joint report, "Asbestos in the Home," originated by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the Consumer Safety Commission.

The report notes that if damaged asbestos insulation is found around pipes or boilers, the best solution is to leave the insulation in place and repair the protective covering.

Exposed Asbestos

When--and when not--to disturb existing conditions is a matter best left to experts, such as Mike Walsh, head of Walsh Technical Services in Atascadero, a specialist in the detection of asbestos problems in buildings.

"Too many consumers with homes built between the 1930s and the early 1970s have--either through ignorance or negligence--sanded old linoleum floors, hacked at asbestos coverings on basement pipes or sprayed ceilings and roofs with the fiber for decorative effect or insulation," Walsh said.

"It's about the worst thing they could have done."

How does one assess the possibility of asbestos exposure in one's home?

Most commonly, the fibers enter the home environment when the protective wrapping of asbestos pipe insulation decays, or where the fibers are released during renovation.

Clues to a Problem

"If there is suspicion of a hazard, inspection by a qualified asbestos specialist is useful," Walsh said. "Special tests can be conducted and samples processed through a laboratory that determines whether the problem exists and to what extent."

A number of visual clues may alert the homeowner or renter to a problem.

"Fibers may be found in tiny tufts on basement floors or a crack may be noticed, even a chunk of the protective covering may be missing, having been removed to accommodate a shelf or storage unit," Walsh said.

Governmental Help

Walsh's firm has compiled a booklet, "Home Manual of the Risks and Prevention of Asbestos," listing resources and contractors (union and non-union) specializing in asbestos work. It can be ordered through William M. Walsh, 6255 Navarette St, Atascadero, Calif. 93422. for $35.

Closer to home, Los Angeles County residents who suspect they have a problem, can get help from a government agency.

Residents may send a sample of suspicious material to R. Kenen, Division of Occupational Health, county Department of Health Services, 2615 S. Grand Ave., Room 607, Los Angeles 90007. The material will be analyzed and the sender notified of the results.

any charge for this?

The next step is to decide which asbestos-abatement technique, if necessary, best applies to a given situation--minor repairs, encapsulation or, in rarer cases, removal under highly technical ( strict or what? ) supervision, which can be a very costly procedure.

Suggest Corrections

Most asbestos home inspections cost between $150 and $300, and include air sample procedure and other tests, in addition to a thorough examination of the home environment.

"Often we find that we can correct a problem by suggesting that the homeowner use a duct tape or special paint to seal a damaged portion of the asbestos insulation, and there are special precautions required in attempting to vacuum suspect materials," Walsh said.

The potential hazard is limited to older construction because contractors no longer use asbestos-coated heating ducts. This is partly due to regulations and partly because fiberglass is cheaper and easier to work with.

As long ago as the 1930s, medical researchers were linking asbestos with several forms of cancer. But even so, the fibrous mineral, valued for its fireproofing, insulation and other uses in school buildings nationwide, continued to be used from the mid-'40s to 1975. legislative action ?????

Banned by U.A. Agency

what happened in 1975 that stopped use and led to ban referred to in next graph?

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency finally agreed to ban the use of all friable materials in June, 1978, including spray-on asbestos as an insulation or fireproofing material.

American Lung Assn. studies conclude that exposure to asbestos increases the risk of several kinds of diseases, among them asbestosis, the scarring of the lung tissue that can appear from five to 40 years after onset of exposure; pleural thickening, mesothelioma and lung cancer.

A greater awareness of the asbestos danger, particularly among owners of multiple-unit buildings, has been stressed by Frank D. Goss, president of Building System Evaluation Inc. of Sierra Madre.

"Virtually every structure built between 1920 and 1978 has the potential for substantial health problems for occupants. And prevention of a serious asbestos condition is now the name of the game," Goss said.

Work for Professionals

Goss, whose firm specializes in facility engineering, with a strong emphasis on identification, analysis and abatement of the asbestos problem, said that it is important that people who suspect their homes have asbestos insulation, not suddenly try to rip the material apart. That can only be done safely by professionals, he said.

Goss said one problem with asbestos is that the binding adhesives used in shot-on insulation begin to deteriorate rapidly after about 15 years. The latex binders oxidize and fibers begin moving about through air conditioning ducts, circulation paths and plenums.

He advocated that all buildings built prior to 1978 be surveyed for asbestos contamination.

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