For the record, I am not an asbestos abatement contractor, nor am I an expert in all things asbestos. I would encourage you to research your local and state regulations regarding asbestos removal and disposal, because rules vary greatly by jurisdiction. Now that I’ve gotten that out of the way, let me share some of what I’ve learned.
There has been a lot of fear regarding asbestos because of the real health hazards that it can present. Asbestos, like lead, is often a concern to those working on older houses. Asbestos can be found in many materials from floor tiles to shingles to fiber cement siding. It was used extensively in buildings and homes from the 1930s until the 1970s, when its use was banned.
Asbestos cement siding is one of the most common materials that you might run in to in an older home.
By definition, it is considered non-friable asbestos, and as such, does not generally present any health concerns. The National Park Service deals quite a bit with the preservation of older homes, and they have an excellent article entitled, Keeping a Lid on It: Asbestos-Cement Building Materials, which I’ve excerpted here:
Some asbestos fibers, when inhaled, constitute a health hazard leading to asbestosis, a form of lung cancer. These health risks prompted the establishment of strict environmental regulations on working with asbestos. Health risks were shown to be greatest during mining and production processes, but minimal during installation and use of asbestos-cement products. According to the EPA, a material containing asbestos is deemed potentially hazardous only in a friable state, which means when it can be crumbled, pulverized, or reduced to a powder by hand pressure. Asbestos-cement is not considered friable, and therefore not hazardous, because the cement binds the asbestos fibers and prevents their release into the air under normal use conditions. However, asbestos-cement products are classified as friable when severe deterioration disturbs the asbestos or mechanical means are used for chipping, grinding, sawing, or sanding, therefore allowing particles to become airborne.
Disposal of friable asbestos material may be subject to various regulations, depending on your jurisdiction. However, disposal of non-friable asbestos by the owner of a single family home can usually be done at any landfill willing to accept asbestos containing material, and is not generally subject to federal restrictions that apply to contractors.
The best way to deal with non-friable asbestos cement siding is to paint it or cover it with some other form of siding. This will obviously result in the least amount of disturbance. However, if you need to remove or repair it, follow these general rules:
- Keep the dust down. There should be no “visible emission” of dust.
- Keep the material damp when removing it to prevent dust from forming.
- Don’t use power tools for removal or chipping, grinding, sawing or sanding.
Floor tiles often contain asbestos as well, and simply covering them with new flooring is probably your best option.
But again, the key is to keep the fibers out of the air to prevent inhalation. A little common sense really does go a long way.