The Risk of Asbestos Exposure in Florida Homes

By Stan G. in News

Florida is the second leading state in asbestos-related deaths, with 14,248 residents who lost their lives to mesothelioma, lung cancer and asbestosis between 1999 and 2013. The Sunshine State has a long history of asbestos use. Shipyards, oil refineries, power plants and construction sites, as well as the five asbestos processing plants operating in the state until the 1980s, are only some of the workplaces where people would be exposed to high levels of airborne toxic fibers on a regular basis. Although the risk of occupational exposure is very low nowadays, asbestos continues to pose a considerable danger to the health of Florida residents who inhabit old houses.

Even though the remarkable properties of asbestos have been exploited since ancient times, it was not until the 1930s that the mineral gained unprecedented popularity in the U.S. Because fibers are durable, fire-resistant and flexible, building products were commonly manufactured with asbestos, which would increase their strength and fireproof them. Considering the terrible extent of asbestos use in Florida, it is perhaps not surprising that nearly all houses constructed before the 1980s have asbestos in their structure. The asbestos-containing products people are frequently exposed to at home are:

  • vinyl floor tiles
  • popcorn ceiling
  • roof shingles
  • pipe insulation
  • corrugated roof sheets
  • caulking
  • decorative plaster
  • textured paint
  • ceiling tiles
  • insulation
  • siding
  • interior walls

However, asbestos becomes a hazard when fibers are airborne. Therefore, if you have one or more of the above products in your home, it might not be necessary to remove them. As long as asbestos-containing materials are undamaged and in relatively good condition, carcinogenic fibers are unlikely to be released in the air. Nevertheless, to prevent exposure, it is highly advisable to avoid disturbing them in any way. Under no circumstances should you remodel or renovate your house before having all the asbestos-containing products removed by a professional asbestos abatement company, as exposure will inevitably occur.

Due to the large number of old buildings with asbestos-containing materials, Florida has a series of strict regulations aimed at preventing environmental exposure from the demolition of such structures. The Florida DEP Asbestos Removal Program came into effect in 1982 by virtue of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's involvement. Its purpose is to minimize the release of asbestos fibers in the atmosphere during renovation or demolition operations when asbestos-containing products have not priorly been disposed of by a certified abatement company. Accordingly, residents who plan to bring changes to the structure of a building are required to notify the Florida Department of Environmental Protection beforehand. The provisions of the program apply to:

  • commercial buildings
  • public buildings
  • industrial structures
  • institutional buildings
  • residential buildings with four or more units
  • ships
  • waste disposal sites

Florida residents who do not comply with the laws will receive financial punishments, which are calculated depending on the specific violation (non-compliance with notification laws, work-practice violations, waste disposal violations or emission violations). Thus, financial punishments can range between $500 and $10,000.

Building materials with an asbestos concentration of 1% or higher are strictly regulated by the State of Florida. Moreover, asbestos products which entail a greater risk of exposure are classified as Regulated Asbestos-Containing Materials (RACM). These refer to:

  • friable products (for instance, boiler insulation or pipe lagging)
  • materials which may become friable with aging or damage (caulking, paint, sheet vinyl backing etc.)
  • products which break or crumble during renovation/ demolition (such as spray-on ceiling treatment)

According to Florida law, all RACMs must be removed prior to the operation, since asbestos fibers come off very easily from this type of products when they are being handled. The abatement of non-friable asbestos-containing materials is not required, as long as they are carefully manipulated during renovation or demolition.

If you believe asbestos-containing products are present in your home, it is always a good idea to have the suspect materials tested before deciding to hire a removal company. You can either contact a professional asbestos testing company and contractors can come to your house to take a sample of each product or you can collect a sample yourself and send it to us for a free of charge analysis. Supposing the tested products contain asbestos and are not in good condition, we encourage you hire a certified abatement company which will safely dispose of them. Additional details regarding the sample collecting process, as well as a list of asbestos abatement companies, can be found in our free downloadable guide.

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.