Related topics

Asbestos: Use Great Care if You Must Disturb It

January 27, 1986

WASHINGTON (AP) _ While government agencies are launching an effort to eliminate the deadly hazard of asbestos in the future, many consumers daily confront this dangerous product in their homes.

Widely used in insulation because it doesn’t burn, asbestos remained relatively common until the 1970s.

In many homes it can be found in flooring, patching compounds, textured paint, ceilings, walls and pipes, door gaskets, stoves and furnaces, roofing, siding and other locations, according to government experts.

Government sources said Thursday that the Labor Department plans to order a 10-fold decrease in the amount of asbestos fibers that construction workers and automobile mechanics can be exposed to on the job.

The Environmental Protection Agency announced that it wants to ban asbestos entirely, saying it wants to cleanse the environment of all products containing the known carcinogen during the next decade.

And the Consumer Product Safety Commission is contemplating hearings to study the danger of asbestos in products it regulates.

While the EPA expects to take about a year to complete the hearings and reviews necessary before its proposed ban becomes law, OSHA is hoping to impose its job-place reduction in six to eight weeks, OSHA spokesman Chris Winston said.

But even then, asbestos remains in wide use in many American homes, a situation that causes concern among people worried about inhaling the fibers, and other exposures to the product.

The microscopic fibers, when inhaled, have been identified as a source of lung, chest and stomach cancers.

Because of growing concern about asbestos in recent years, the Consumer Product Safety Commission and the EPA published a set of guidelines for dealing with asbestos at home.

Warnings on asbestos were compiled in the booklet ″Asbestos in the Home,″ available for $2.75 from the Consumer Information Center, Dept. 136P, Pueblo, Colo., 81009.

The agencies cautioned that, in general, if asbestos is sealed, it is probably best left alone. Disturbing it is only likely to release the tiny fibers into the air, causing contamination.

And, they went on, homeowners who want to have the product removed are best advised to hire a professional contractor experienced in dealing with asbestos.

If the product is loose in the home, the booklet warns against dusting, sweeping or vacuuming it.

Such actions will only stir up the tiny fibers, making them airborne and creating a bigger danger. The fibers are so small they cannot be seen, and they can pass through vacuum cleaner filters and get right back into the air through the machine’s exhaust.

If there is asbestos dust in the home, remove it with a wet mop, the agencies said, and then throw away the mop head in a plastic bag.

When asbestos is being removed, seal off the work area with plastic sheeting and duct tape, the booklet urges, and people working in the area must wear a respirator, gloves, a hat and other protective clothing.

When working with asbestos-containing materials, dampen them with a fine mist sprayer - including just a bit of low-sudsing detergent - to keep the fibers from flying into the air.

Do any drilling or cutting of asbestos materials outdoors, and when finished throw away small pieces of the product as well as mops, rags, sponges and other such materials.

Determining if there is asbestos in the home can often be done by contacting the original installer or builder. If that is no longer possible, some experienced contractors can determine the presence of asbestos through an inspection.

Keeping in mind that the agencies urge homeowmners to seek professional help in dealing with asbestos, here is a brief rundown of their suggestions concerning various locations where it may be found in the home:

-Vinyl floor tiles and sheet flooring. Avoid sanding or otherwise damaging the tiles, which may release fibers. If replacement is needed, perhaps the best answer is to put new flooring directly over the old.

-Patching compounds and textured paints. Banned since 1978, these are best left alone if in good condition, otherwise hire a professional. Do not cut or sand.

-Ceilings and walls. Again, leave it alone if in good condition, otherwise hire a professional contractor.

-Pipe insulation. If damaged, repair the protective covering to reseal it.

-Hair dryers. Those using asbestos were recalled in 1979. Few other appliances use it, and the agencies say little danger is posed by those that do. Persons who are concerned should have the appliance checked by a qualified repair technician.

-Roofing, shingles and siding. Since this is located outdoors the danger is minimized. Worn or damaged areas can release asbestos fibers, though, and can be sealed with spray paint.

Update hourly