How Can I Spot Asbestos Pipes in or Around My Home?

By Cristina M. in Construction

Asbestos fibers had been a part of pipe manufacturing ever since the late 1800s, with the toxic mineral having been officially regulated in the United States only in the 1980s.

The asbestos fibers are lightweight while simultaneously having the capacity of adding strength to mixtures they are poured in which was a combination that worked ideally for pipes. As a consequence, the infrastructure of the nation is mostly made of millions of pipe miles that contain asbestos mixtures.

Since a more systematic work with asbestos pipes began in the 1930s and the estimation of the lifespan of some of them is approximately 70 years, the recent decades have seen concerns about their deterioration and the exposure to the damaging substance.

Asbestos in Pipe Manufacturing

The industry of pipe manufacturing made use of materials that had asbestos in it mainly in two ways, i.e. in producing the actual pipes and in producing pipe wrapping.

In the case of steel pipes, asbestos-embedded materials presented yet another advantage provided by its natural qualities and that was a low electric conductivity which significantly increased the safety of such items in the vicinity of static charges. Displaying a lack of chemical reaction in relation to other substances, the mineral was easy to mix in with other materials. Additionally, asbestos was to be found in the majority of mines across the United States which made it available not only materially but also financially.

Back in the day, the manufacturers were primarily producing two types of pipes that contained asbestos. Firstly, there were the already mentioned steel pipes, typically destined for high-pressure jobs. In the case of steel pipes, their overall composition usually consisted of up to 15% asbestos fibers, but if insulation was also present then it would have been 100% made of asbestos. The other type of asbestos-containing pipe was the one made of cement, which, like all asbestos cement products, was broadly known under the brand name Transite. It is many of these that have reached a time when they finally need replacement after storing sewer and storm drains, but also potable water for most of the 20th century.

Manufacturers known for using asbestos in pipe making and pipe wrapping:

  • Ametek Inc.
  • Armstrong Contracting and Supply (AC&S)
  • Armstrong World Industries, Inc.
  • Capco Pipe Company, Inc.
  • Philip Carey Asbestos Products
  • Certainteed Corp.
  • Champlain Cable Co.
  • Crown Cork & Seal Company
  • Eagle-Picher Industries, Inc.
  • Plant Rubber & Asbestos Company
  • Flintkote
  • Forty-Eight Insulations
  • Gaf-Ruberoid
  • Haveg Pipe Co.
  • Johns-Manville
  • Baldwin-Ehret-Hill
  • Keasby and Mattison
  • Owens-Corning Fiberglass Corporation
  • Pittsburgh Corning Corporation
  • Plibrico Company
  • Unarco Industries

Tips to Identifying Asbestos Piping

  • Age - asbestos piping has an estimated service life of 50 to 70 years. After this time it's likely to start degrading and releasing fibers into your water and the air around it. If your home was built 50 - 70 years ago or more, asbestos piping may be cause for concern.
  • Condition - since asbestos is only hazardous if it's damaged, piping in good condition isn't of immediate and urgent concern. If the piping is fraying, crumbling, broken, or otherwise damaged, however, it may be hazardous.
  • Location - if asbestos piping is underground, buried, or otherwise encased, it may be of lesser immediate risk. If it's exposed, or located in high traffic areas of your home, it may cause more urgent health risks and removing them is the best option.

If you're not sure whether your property contains asbestos piping, you can perform a quick inspection to look for the following signs:

  • Whitish-grey asbestos-cement water piping underneath your home
  • Cloth-like lagging, particularly around hot water pipes and cylinders
  • Mold tends to thrive on old asbestos, so gutters, downpipes and drain traps may appear mottled

Apart from visually inspecting your home, it would be best to have the products tested by an asbestos expert so that you are certain that your family is safe.

Asbestos Pipe Repair, Rehabilitation, and Replacement Should Be Treated With Care

Pipe manufacturers were mainly incorporating chrysotile, otherwise known as white asbestos, and amphibole asbestos in their products. When left alone and undisturbed, items that had asbestos in them do not cause any harm, however, asbestos pipes are hardly the kind of product that would be intact after its use.

If you know for sure that the pipes that you wish to remove have asbestos in them and you decide you want to do the removal on your own, you should take steps to contain the exposure to asbestos toxicity as much as possible. Therefore:

  • you should wear disposable coveralls
  • you should wear a respirator with HEPA filters
  • you should seal the vents and turn off all the HVAC appliances
  • you should seal off the work area with plastic sheets
  • you should dampen the site until the work is finished
  • you should place the waste in clearly marked containers
  • you should call the landfill ahead to make sure they accept asbestos waste.

Why Should I Test Products in My Home for Asbestos?

It is often impossible to tell whether asbestos is embedded in a material, as the fibers are too small to be observed with the naked eye. Exposure to asbestos is responsible for serious respiratory conditions, so thorough testing is required to ensure your home is asbestos-free.