Asbestos Exposure Risks in Older Homes and Schools
Schools and residential buildings constructed prior to the mid-1980s are highly likely to
have been built using several different types of asbestos-containing materials. This is
particularly true for buildings constructed between 1945 and 1980, as these years
encompass the peak of the country’s use of asbestos in construction. Even homes and
schools constructed prior to 1945 may contain asbestos, as these buildings may have had
asbestos-containing materials added during renovations and repairs.
Asbestos in Older Homes
Asbestos in older homes may present an exposure risk if the asbestos-containing
materials are in poor condition, are broken, or are beginning to deteriorate due to normal
wear and tear. If the material is friable—meaning that it can be broken with normal hand
pressure—steps should be taken to manage the risk of exposure.
Asbestos may be found in older homes in many different locations, including the
Insulation is one of the most common uses of asbestos in older homes and buildings. Asbestos insulation of several different types was manufactured and used, including loose
fiberglass-type insulation, and blown-in insulation between attic and wall joists.
Asbestos-containing insulation is not a health risk as long as it is completely enclosed
within the home’s walls. Other types of insulation including furnace and stove insulation,
pipe coverings, and electrical insulation often contained asbestos.
Flooring was used in tile form and as sheet vinyl flooring. Many different varieties contained asbestos. In addition, the adhesives used to affix flooring often contained
asbestos. Deterioration of tiles can release asbestos fibers into the air.
Textured plaster was used both as a decorative element and as an acoustical ceiling
treatment. Deterioration of the plaster, sanding or scraping, and other disturbances has a high chance of releasing asbestos fibers.
Millboard, rollboard, cement sheets, and other products were manufactured using
asbestos. All of these wall treatments were commonly used for wall framing. In addition, joint compound used to patch holes and seams often contained asbestos. Undamaged walls do not present a health risk; however any activity that disturbs the walls, such as drilling or sanding, may release asbestos fibers.
If you believe asbestos-containing products are in your home, the most important thing to do is to leave the materials undisturbed until you can confirm whether asbestos is actually present. Do not attempt to inspect, test, or remove the materials yourself. Instead, contact a licensed asbestos surveyor to confirm the presence of asbestos.
In most situations, asbestos-containing products can be left undisturbed without posing any health risk. Often, the greater risk lies in attempting to remove asbestos-containing materials. In some cases, however, materials may be too badly damaged, and may require encapsulation (sealing to prevent the spread of asbestos fibers) or even removal. In general, encapsulation is the safest option, and complete removal is usually necessary only if demolition or renovation is planned. If removal is needed, contact a licensed asbestos removal firm to deal with the asbestos.
Asbestos in Schools
It has been estimated that more than 250,000 schools contain at least some asbestos materials. Locations that required heat and fire resistance, and acoustical protection, are highly likely to contain asbestos. Possible locations of asbestos in schools include the following:
? Acoustical plasters and finishers
? Thermal insulation materials
? Fireproofing insulation materials
? Cement board around boilers and furnaces
? Sheet and tile flooring in classrooms and halls
? Heavy fabric used in auditorium fireproof curtains, and in school laboratories for
safety gloves and asbestos pads
? Joint compound, caulk, and adhesives
? Roofing materials
The EPA’s school asbestos management program is called the Asbestos Hazard
Emergency Response Act (AHERA). This program manages asbestos in schools on an
‘in-place’ basis. This means that schools do not have to remove asbestos-containing
products unless they are damaged or are going to be disturbed as a result of renovation or
However all schools where asbestos-containing materials are present—including private,
charter, and parochial schools as well as public schools—must develop an asbestos-
management plan to reduce exposure risks. According to AHERA regulations, all schools
? Develop an asbestos management plan that includes an inventory of all asbestos-
containing materials in the school and their locations, as well as ongoing records
of measures taken to manage the asbestos.
? Provide parents and school employees (and employee organizations) with yearly
notification of the school’s asbestos management plan, and any actions the school
has taken or plans to take to manage asbestos in the school.
? Designate a contact person who will ensure that the school’s responsibilities for
asbestos risk management are carried out.
? Arrange formal inspection of asbestos-containing materials every three years.
? Provide custodial staff with training to ensure they are aware of asbestos locations
in the school and are able to work near asbestos safely.
? Ensure that properly accredited professionals are hired to perform inspections,
prepare management plans, and carry out asbestos management strategies when
Asbestos that is properly managed poses little risk. This includes regular inspections,
maintenance of asbestos-containing materials, and encapsulation or removal when
Mesothelioma Mesothelioma, a rare yet fatal disease, is caused by the exposure and inhalation or
ingestion of asbestos fibers. Unfortunately, there is no cure for mesothelioma, which
affects the mesothelial cells, or the fluid-filled membranes, surrounding the lungs, heart,
abdomen, or testes.
While pleural mesothelioma, or mesothelioma of the lungs, is most common, all types of
mesothelioma are extremely difficult to diagnose and treat, making the disease fatal in
most patients. Additionally, because many mesothelioma victims are not diagnosed until
the late stages of the disease, curative treatments are rarely used. Most patients focus only
on palliative treatments, used only to stay as comfortable as possible. Please see the
resources at asbestos.com for more information on mesothelioma treatment or pleural
If you have any other questions or concerns on asbestos exposure or its effects, please
visit the comprehensive resources at the Asbestos and Mesothelioma Center.