Asbestos / Demolition

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Asbestos on quarterSome facts about asbestos

Breathing in asbestos fibers has been linked to cancer and other diseases. When asbestos-containing material is disturbed or damaged it releases tiny fibers into the air that are too small to be filtered by a dust mask. There is no safe level of exposure, so contact with any amount of asbestos can be harmful.

The best way to handle asbestos-containing material is to hire a licensed asbestos abatement contractor (external PDF file) to perform the work. Most home repair or remodeling contractors do not have an asbestos abatement license or certified workers who are trained and equipped to work safely with asbestos.

Protect yourself and your family from the dangers of improper asbestos removal. Call the Southwest Clean Air Agency at 360-574-3058 to get more information and advice before you remodel, hire a contractor or attempt to handle asbestos yourself. If you think you have been exposed to asbestos and want to learn more about mesothelioma, click here.

What is asbestos?

Asbestos is a mineral that can be broken down into very fine fibers that are heat-resistant and extremely durable. Because of these properties, asbestos was widely used in construction materials.

Depending on its condition, asbestos in your home may be hazardous to your health. As long as asbestos is not disturbed, damaged or worn, or the material is sealed, it is not considered a health hazard.

If you're thinking of buying a house that needs remodeling, or planning to remodel your current home, hire a qualified AHERA inspector to survey the house for asbestos before you buy or remodel. Improper handling of asbestos-containing materials can be expensive.

Does your house have asbestos-containing materials?

Note: The following list does not include every product or material that may contain asbestos. It is intended as a general guide to show which types of materials may contain asbestos.

  • Cement pipes
  • Cement wallboard
  • Cement siding
  • Asphalt floor tile
  • Vinyl floor tile
  • Vinyl sheet flooring
  • Flooring backing
  • Construction mastics (floor tile, carpet, ceiling tile, etc.)
  • Acoustical plaster
  • Decorative plaster
  • Textured paints/coatings
  • Ceiling tiles and lay-in panels
  • Spray-applied insulation
  • Blown-in insulation
  • Fireproofing materials
  • Taping compounds (thermal)
  • Packing materials (for wall/floor penetrations)
  • High temperature gaskets
  • Laboratory hoods/table tops
  • Laboratory gloves
  • Fire blankets
  • Fire curtains
  • Elevator Equipment Panels
  • Elevator brake shoes
  • HVAC duct insulation
  • Boiler insulation
  • Breaching insulation
  • Ductwork flexible fabric connections
  • Cooling towers
  • Pipe insulation (corrugated air-cell, block, etc.)
  • Heating and electrical ducts
  • Electrical panel partitions
  • Electrical cloth
  • Electric wiring insulation
  • Chalkboards
  • Roofing shingles
  • Roofing felt
  • Base flashing
  • Thermal paper products
  • Fire doors
  • Caulking/putties
  • Adhesives
  • Wallboard
  • Joint compounds
  • Vinyl wall coverings
  • Spackling compounds

Be safe! Treat all suspect materials as if they contain asbestos until you know for sure.

You cannot identify asbestos by looking at it. The only safe way to find out if material contains asbestos is to have a laboratory analyze a sample of the suspect material. Laboratories that do this work are usually listed in the Yellow Pages under "Laboratories - Analytical." Call the Southwest Clean Air Agency at 360-574-3058 to get more information on how to safely take a sample.

How to take a sample to send to a lab

  1. Wet down the material with a light water mist before taking the sample. This reduces the potential release of asbestos fibers.
  2. Do not disturb the material any more than is necessary to take a small sample.
  3. Place the sample in a clean, "air-tight" container such as a zip-lock bag or small glass jar.
  4. Seal the container tightly.
  5. Use a damp paper towel to clean up any material on the outside of the container or that might have spilled onto the floor. NEVER USE A VACUUM TO CLEAN UP ASBESTOS.
  6. Clearly label the container, stating where and when the sample was taken.
  7. Send or take the sample to a laboratory for analyses. Make sure to take one sample for each different type of suspect material.

Handling asbestos-containing materials in your home

If the asbestos-containing material is NOT broken, worn, damaged or disturbed, it poses little or no danger. Asbestos removal involves disturbing the material and possibly putting asbestos into the air. Leaving asbestos containing material intact is often a safer option.

You may repair or remove asbestos in a house you own and live in. However, SWCAA strongly recommends that you not repair or remove asbestos-containing materials yourself. Removing asbestos requires special equipment and detailed training. More importantly, without proper equipment and training, an individual could cause asbestos fiber contamination throughout your home and neighborhood. Call SWCAA for more information and advice on the best way to handle asbestos repair or removal.

If you live in the house and own it and intend on doing your own asbestos removal work, you are responsible for following all Removal and Demolition regulations and for submitting all necessary Notifications to SWCAA. Asbestos-containing waste requires special handling and disposal and must be deposited at a hazardous waste landfill (PDF) authorized to handle asbestos waste. Contact SWCAA for more information about special disposal requirements for asbestos waste.

If you intend to manage asbestos "in place," then be careful to not disturb sprayed-on acoustic or "popcorn" ceilings and some textured walls. If these materials have never been painted, a coat of sealant can be sprayed on with an airless sprayer to seal the surface. Do not use a brush or roller! Do not use a broom to sweep cobwebs off the textured surface. Remember, only an owner that lives in his own house can do asbestos removal from that house and a removal notification submitted to SWCAA is still necessary.

For more information on SWCAA's Asbestos Program, please read SWCAA 476 (PDF) asbestos regulations on our web page or see our Quick Facts page for Demolition or Renovation summaries.