Inhaling concentrated amounts of asbestos fibers can be deadly. That said, undisturbed asbestos is harmless and fire resistant. And since it’s generally made of minerals, it is naturally occurring in the air we breathe everyday.
But what happens when you have a piece of your popcorn ceiling fall in? Or you need to remove an old floor? The safest course of action is to call in a professional abatement company to do the removal. They not only know how to get rid of the asbestos safely, but they also have the equipment.
If you choose to take on the project yourself, please be aware of the nature and risk of handling asbestos.
First, friable asbestos fibers pose the most threat. This is when the asbestos is crumbled and a slight breeze can send it airborne. These fibers are extremely hazardous to breathe, especially in large quantities.
Keep in mind, the very name “asbestos” is derived from the Greek word meaning “inextinguishable” or “indestructible.” And asbestos is truly indestructible.
If you were to put them under a microscope, you’d see tiny hooks on the fibers. Once it gets in your lungs, those tiny hooks latch on to the tissue and they will not dissolve. Over time, the hooks will shred your lung tissue causing all kinds of nasty breathing problems and even death. The average time it takes for this to happen is fourteen years.
Now that you know why asbestos is a nasty piece of work, here are some tips for safe handling.
WEAR A MASK
Since breathing asbestos is the biggest problem, you should pick up a mask from Home Depot or the equivalent. These are not the little paper masks that are a dime a dozen. They are the heavy duty ones with the snout-like fixtures on the front. There are filters that go inside the snouts to prevent asbestos from entering the body. Make sure the packaging says that they are specifically for asbestos and not just mold. And keep in mind that even with these masks, you may not be 100% safe. Especially without a negative air machine.
SEAL OFF THE WORK AREA
To prevent the asbestos from traveling to uncontaminated areas, you need to seal off your workspace with heavy plastic. Make the seal as airtight as possible. The last thing you want is a breeze coming through and carrying asbestos to other areas that you will have to clean later.
Because of the hooks, your lungs aren’t the only things asbestos can latch onto. They can attach to any porous material such as clothing. While working with asbestos, wear something non porous and easy to clean. Or better yet, don’t get attached to the outfit and just throw it away afterward. Don’t forget to cover your head as it can be a pain to get asbestos out of your hair.
Professional abatement contractors use a special water mixed with a chemical to keep the fibers from going airborne. Even in the absence of the chemical, water will still work. You just have to make sure that the material stays too wet to get in the air.
Properly disposing of asbestos contaminated materials is a whole other animal in itself. You CANNOT just dump it in your trash bin and call it a day. Before you start your project, call around and find a nearby hazardous waste disposal facility. Make sure that they will accept asbestos especially if they’re used to receiving batteries and such only.
Some of them only operate a few days out of the month. Others are permanent sites but are still only open on weekends. Take these things into consideration when you plan your project. If your project is huge, you should also be aware that it may be illegal to drive with the waste over a certain poundage. In California, the limit is 125 lbs.
When you are disposing of the items, keep in mind that your load will not consist solely of the material you removed. Anything that came in contact with the asbestos, clean up rags, clothing etc., should also be included in your load to dump. It’s also a good idea to dispose of the plastic with which you sealed your work area in this manner as well.
Do not take the disposal lightly. If this part of the clean up is mishandled by contractors, they go to jail. The advantage you have over the contractors is that it is generally free for the public to dispose of hazardous waste at these facilities. Take advantage of them and finish the job properly.
And there you have it, the hidden dangers and safe removal of asbestos. Even with all these tips, the safest route is to leave asbestos containing material be. But if the asbestos is exposed, the next best route is to just hire a contractor.