Asbestos in the Basement

By Stan G. in News

Asbestos is present in many products and places because it was a prevalent material before the law regulated it in 1980. The buildings from between 1920 and 1980 primarily contained the mineral present in almost every construction material. Asbestos is a carcinogen, and exposure to it poses a health threat; when asbestos fibers are inhaled or ingested, they can cause severe diseases within 20 to 50 years.

Even if asbestos exposure from building materials in a home is not as acute as in industrial environments, it is a risk factor to be taken seriously, especially if a renovation or remodeling of the house is planned. The mineral is dangerous when renovation maneuvers such as sawing, drilling, and sanding damage it. Excessively weathered asbestos is also a threat in your home.

Potential Asbestos Risks Lurking in Your Basement

Basements of buildings hide materials containing traces of asbestos for decades with no one knowing. Basements often get overlooked in maintenance, inspections, and other home fixes. Frequently used as storage areas, caution is welcome when moving boxes or items in and out of these parts of the house. Certain factors might cause the asbestos fibers to become airborne and put you at risk of inhaling or swallowing these particles:

  • wear and tear
  • years of deterioration

The mineral was often used as an insulation for pipes, as pipes must remain in good condition against the oscillating temperature of basements. Ductwork and pipe coverings were essential to prevent freezing; therefore, insulation tape and sleeves were frequently used, which can contain asbestos. Some old bonding agents and adhesives also have the material.

Cement floors are standard basement features intended to last for decades - throughout the 1900s, asbestos was added to the cement mixture for its insulating property. The cement floor is no health hazard, but the microscopic asbestos fibers are released into the air when the material is cracked or disturbed in other ways. They can travel through the home, exposing everyone to asbestos. Basement floors covered with vinyl floor tiles and vinyl sheet flooring (linoleum) represent another asbestos exposure risk, along with the adhesives used in fixing them to place.

Because water heaters often last for a long time, their tank covers are another source of asbestos in the basement. The insulation around the connecting pipes might be asbestos-based as well. The old HVAC duct insulation (usually found in corrugated or flat paper form) could contain asbestos, too. Also, there are various products in the basement that contain asbestos and represent a health risk continually through exposure:

  • carpet mastic
  • coving mastic
  • floor tile mastic
  • vapor barriers (where used)
  • ceiling panels (where used)
  • ductwork insulation
  • boiler breeching insulation
  • plaster
  • some forms of paint
  • soundproofing (where used)

How to Deal With the Asbestos in Your Basement

If your basement is older, it could already be a danger to you and your family, so you must have the area tested or do DIY testing before beginning any projects. Below are some ways that asbestos-containing materials could break:

  • cutting or sawing
  • strip waxing
  • scraping

If there is damage in the area, do not disturb the materials, if possible. There are some guidelines recommended by the US Environmental Protection Agency to contain the toxic dust as much as you can:

  • limit the number of times you go in and out of the area
  • keep children out
  • place the boxes on a moistened towel, and clean them off with a wet cloth or sponge -prevent the fibers from becoming airborne
  • clean the area with wet cloths only - do not sweep or vacuum as this will stir up the fibers

For removal, contact a licensed asbestos abatement company with the equipment that allows for the safe removal of hazardous materials. Should you choose to do the asbestos removal without the help of a professional, the priority is to limit the spreading of the dust by:

  • securing the basement from the rest of the house
  • wearing a HEPA mask during the removal and the disposal
  • dampening the damaged asbestos to prevent dust formation
  • keeping the pieces intact
  • placing the debris in sealed plastic bags
  • disposing of the debris at approved depots

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.