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Thread: Is it asbestos?

  1. #1
    Flashaholic* milkyspit's Avatar
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    Default Is it asbestos?

    I'll cut to the chase here: how can I, a lowly homeowner not blessed with all that much income or savings, determine whether the attic contains asbestos or not... and if so, eliminate the threat to my family?

    The slightly longer story... I've lived in my house since, er, being born. No joke! It was built by my great grandfather in the 1920s, and other than a 10 year period just after graduating from college, I've been here my entire life. I love this house, as do my wife and little kids. (Yup, guess I'm old now! [img]/ubbthreads/images/graemlins/ooo.gif[/img])

    The problem is that we've got two attics but only use one even though we really could use the additional storage. Why don't we use the other attic? Because there's a hot water heating pipe that runs through that attic, wrapped with an insulating material that looks like white paper. It also seems to have some sort of white powdery material in it, though mostly it just looks like the pipe's wrapped with white corrugated cardboard stuff. I think the heat was installed upstairs around 1970, so the insulation is probably around that age as well. There's also some really old linoleum on parts of the attic floor, perhaps dating from the 1940s, maybe even older. The pipe insulation and linoleum floor are both deteriorating at this point, and my concern is that one or both of these might contain asbestos. How likely is that?

    Beyond this, the problem becomes one of finances. I am, unfortunately, quite far from wealthy, and I've heard that "official" asbestos testing and removal is incredibly expensive. But we'd like to reach some closure on this, so what can we do? Anyone been down this road, and might have some suggestions of how to take care of things at minimal expense AND minimal risk to my family?

    I really appreciate the help.

  2. #2
    * The Arctic Moderator * Sigman's Avatar
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    Default Re: Is it asbestos?

    A sample of the material taken to a lab that does environmental analysis of course would answer your questions. Seems you've hit the nail on the head with your description of possible sources. The timeframes you've mentioned also "add wood to the fire".

    If you are a homeowner taking a sample, of course you are putting yourself at risk by merely taking the sample. Those who take samples must be trained...but that's your decision as to how to get the samples (sounds like you have several possible sources!). If you end up with a sample, call around and ask labs how much it would be to check it out.

    I worked environmental waste management/operations for 7 years. I was exempt from taking asbestos samples because it was confirmed that I already had asbestos in both of my lungs (military related). It also was the cause of death for my father (a plumber/pipefitter all his life). Asbestos contamination is a killer...sorry to sound so negative, but be careful.

    Don't go prowling around and jostling up those suspect materials, you'll put yourself as well as your family at risk.

    Call some environmental labs for information on what to do, or maybe your city's health department?

    BTW, how's that Milkyspit Otter Box Emergency light project coming along?

  3. #3

    Default Re: Is it asbestos?

    Be careful. If you have to disturb it, make sure you spray it with enough water so that it doesn't float in the air. And clean up all the sludge that that would produce, even if it's just a tiny bit. It might not be asbestos, but it probably isn't worth the risk. Maybe you could carefully coat the whole thing in something else, so that it's all contained. Best if you can find out for sure what it is, but if you call someone to inspect it, and it's asbestos, then things might get expensive.

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    Default Re: Is it asbestos?

    I apologize for interrupting, but mentioning asbestos brought back some forgotten memories.

    Back in 1997, there was some sort of scandal involvig asbetos testing in my junior high school, that the initial testing was never done, but they still said it was asbestos free. When retesting was conducted, asbetos was found, and the school was closed down. By then, students have already been exposed to it, and the faculty may have received much longer exposure, especially those who have been there for many years. After the school was cleared of asbestos, everyone went back to school as if nothing really happened. As I recall, the notices said that we were exposed to high levels of asbestos, with the word high worrying me. I know asbestos is dangerous, but just how dangerous is it? How much exposure is too much exposure?

  5. #5
    * The Arctic Moderator * Sigman's Avatar
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    Default Re: Is it asbestos?

    It's visible in both of my lungs on x-rays. The "spots" are getting progressively "larger/more visual" as x-rays are taken throughout the years. At first it was a "maybe", then the x-rays showed more and more. I was just starting to fail the lung capacity testing when I got out of the environmental field. Probably couldn't legally wear a respirator/full face mask today, though I don't feel any real "identifiable symptoms"....perhaps being tired alot is an indicator of lung capacity?

    With my father, it started in his lungs, but the cancer it caused moved throughout his body, with colon cancer being the final cause of death.

    I'm certainly not an expert and probably should do a lot more reading on it, but as I understand it...it can take up to 20 years or so to show up and/or cause problems. You may never make it to the point to know that you've been exposed when "your time is up"...then again, everyone's immune system is different.

    There are certainly some CPF members in the medical field that could probably fill us in on more exact details?

  6. #6
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    Default Re: Is it asbestos?

    Scary story.

    My mother was an artsy type who always encouraged arts & crafts activities among her kids. Apparently, one art medium of the time was the use of powdered asbestos. You could buy the stuff in small bags at local art stores. My mom would pull out a big bowl, grandly dump a pound bag of asbestos into the bowl and add water. We little kids would dive in just like it was Playdoe. The resulting mixture could be formed into sculptures or whatever. Took paint well.

    Luckily, she only did this a few times.

  7. #7
    *Flashaholic* James S's Avatar
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    Default Re: Is it asbestos?

    While "officially" getting rid of it is VERY expensive, if that pipe in the attic is the only source and it can be encapsulated properly then it won't be so bad.

    First thing I would do is get a testing system installed down in the living area's of the house. The one's I've seen are a little air filter connected to a vacuum pump or blower and they just suck air through the filter for a few days and then send it off to a lab. More important than knowing whats inside your walls is knowing whats inside your actual living area. It's very probable that there are no loose fibers at all in your breathing space.

    That will cost some money, but hopefully just having the test run won't be so bad.

    I know some people that have a bit of a devil may care attitude about asbestos, I've even had a friend describe to me how he cleaned up an old house himself. I personally think he was out of his mind, but it's too late for me to change his mind now.

    If you can test and find out for sure that it's in the floor you might not even have to have that torn out, but a new second floor placed over it might count as encapsulating it safely. (though I'd still test once a year for a while to be absolutely sure) and the pipes in the attic can probably be sealed up in new plaster or something rather than being taken out. This still costs money, but is perfectly safe when done properly and much less expensive. You are going to have to talk to some of the abatement companies though I'm afraid.

    There was asbestos in the theater ceiling in my high school as well and we spent a lot of time up there doing lighting and set construction and whatnot. Twice a year they had it tested. A guy in a clean suit would climb the ladder and wave at us kids up there in our street clothes and setup the tester and then wave again as he left. It was a bit frightening the first time we saw that [img]/ubbthreads/images/graemlins/smile.gif[/img] But they showed us the results, actually less asbestos in the air in there than just outside in the parking lot cause it was safely embedded in the concrete.

    good luck!

  8. #8
    Flashaholic* milkyspit's Avatar
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    Default Re: Is it asbestos?

    Sigman, thanks for your comments. Also, PM incoming! [img]/ubbthreads/images/graemlins/smile.gif[/img]

    Everyone else, thanks for your comments, too. And newcomers, please feel free to add whatever you know! I want to be well informed when I decide what to do about this.

  9. #9
    Flashaholic* metalhed's Avatar
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    Default Re: Is it asbestos?

    As a former floor layer (vinyl), I have a suggestion for the flooring problem. Cover it! Install a new layer of underlayment over the existing linoleum (which may indeed contain asbestos...probably does). Be sure to use wood sheating which is rated for floor use. I strongly suggest using 1/4 inch thick, 4x4 sheets of underlayment purchased from a flooring supply house. Regular plywood has voids which will deform under walking pressures, and will not take adhesive well when you lay a new layer of vinyl over the underlayment. In California, this is a legal way to encapsulate the old linoleum. Additionally, it is a homeowner friendly job (if you follow all nailing and joint treating recommendations from the manufacturer), and will slightly firm up the feel of the floor.

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