While transforming a new apartment or house into a home, it is common to be consumed with issues ranging from aesthetics to functionality. Oftentimes, our focus narrows in on old carpets, the need for a fresh coat of paint, or the mold in the bathroom. It’s easy to overlook the possibility of a deadly toxin, like asbestos while making all these new, stressful, and exciting changes to your space.
It is safe to assume that asbestos is present in apartment buildings and houses built before 1980. Asbestos was once considered a “miracle material” for its affordability and insulating properties. However, as the popularity of the material grew, the risks associated with the material became apparent.
When disturbed, asbestos particles will release into the air, and the material becomes extremely dangerous. Once inhaled, the fibers settle in the lining of the lungs, heart or abdomen where mesothelioma cancer can develop. Pleural mesothelioma (affecting the lining of the lungs) is the most common form of the disease - accounting for 70 to 90 percent of diagnoses. Prognosis for mesothelioma is poor, but early detection can improve survival rate.
Unfortunately, many landlords and renters are still unaware that asbestos may be present in old spaces. Asbestos is still legal in the United States, but the material is now strictly regulated - many products are only permitted to contain one percent of the mineral. However, the toxin remains a threat in older homes and buildings. Asbestos is commonly found in the basement, the attic and on the shingles and roofing of an old house or building.
1. Your Basement
The basement of any building or rental property can contain a slew of toxic materials. Asbestos can easily hide behind all the old boxes, bikes, and “treasures.” The fireproof mineral was often used as an insulation for pipes and cement floors.
Pipes must remain in good condition to ensure peak performance. Due to the vacillating temperature of basements asbestos was frequently used along pipes to protect them from the elements.
Cement floors are also a common basement feature. Cement is intended to last for decades - throughout the 1900’s asbestos was added to the cement mixture as an insulating property. Cement that is not damaged presents no health hazard, however, when the material is being mixed, settling, or is cracked, the microscopic asbestos fibers are released into the air.
2. Your Attic
If the apartment or house you are renting contains an attic, stay mindful while entering that space. Throughout the 1900’s, attic insulation was one of the most common asbestos-containing building materials. Attic’s were most often insulated with chrysotile asbestos, also known as “white asbestos.” This type of asbestos was the primary ingredient for the Monokote, a product of W.R. Grace, used to spray insulation material in many homes and buildings. Zonolite is another form of asbestos which was used heavily throughout the 1950’s and 1970’s in the attics of many homes and buildings. If you believe your attic could be insulated with asbestos, it is in your best interest to have your home inspected by a professional.
3. Exterior Surfaces
In addition to places within the apartment, it is also important to stay mindful of the surfaces outside the apartment. Transite, another type of asbestos, was commonly used on homes and buildings as siding. The siding sheets are constructed from a combination of asbestos and cement, and as a result, they maintained the durability and strength of the cement while also providing a fire-proof resistance. Transite siding could contain up to 50 percent asbestos fiber up until the 1980’s and can still be found on thousands of older homes throughout the United States. If the material is broken, cut or damaged, the asbestos dust is released into the air.
Asbestos was also heavily used in roofing products; these products have a lifespan of 30 to 50 years. As a result, roofing hazards are still a risk today. Asbestos was added to most roofing products to ensure protection from outside elements while also being fire resistant. Asbestos can be found in many different types of roofing products such as roofing shingles, asphalt roll roofing, cement roofing, and roofing felt.
In addition to the products listed, there are other areas of the home that may be at risk for exposure, such as places where asbestos-contained drywall or ceiling is damaged and crumbling. Furthermore, old appliances, decorations, and even children's toys may contain asbestos.
Asbestos is very difficult to detect and is nearly impossible to identify from inspection with the naked eye. Not to mention, when examining an area for potential asbestos exposure, you are also putting yourself at risk for inhaling the toxic fibers. If the apartment or house you are renting was built before 1980, it is a good idea to ask your landlord about the possibility of asbestos exposure.
According to the EPA, building owners should inform tenants about the location and physical condition of any asbestos containing materials (ACM) within a building in order to avoid risk.If you or your landlord feel that there could be a chance of asbestos exposure in your home, contact a qualified inspector to determine if asbestos is present and if it poses any health hazards.