by Bob Strong, RAS Environmental Testing Services

You’ve finally found your dream home and all that stands between you and the closing is a few successful inspections. Your home inspection will report back to you on the condition of everything from the roof down to the crawlspace, including plumbing, electrical, and appliances. Being concerned about indoor air quality, you might even order a radon test. But what about the actual building materials you’ll contact each and every day? How safe are they? Specifically, does the paint contain hazardous levels of lead and are there any asbestos containing materials you should be concerned about?

Who Should Be Worried about Lead?

If the home was constructed after 1978, you shouldn’t have to worry about lead-based paint, because it was not legal to use in residential construction after that date. If it was built prior to 1978, very simple testing will quickly determine if lead is present.

Asbestos: Miracle Mineral or Silent Killer?

Through the years, we’ve heard a lot about asbestos. If you’re old enough, you probably learned that it is a miracle mineral. Over the course of the past few decades, we’ve heard that it is a silent killer. So, which is it? Actually, it’s both.

Being resistant to heat, chemicals, and electricity, and because it’s very malleable, it’s ideal for use in building materials such as roofs, tiles, wallboard, and insulation. Unfortunately, in the 1950s, asbestos was also shown by researchers to cause a rare and fatal type of cancer, known as mesothelioma.

When Was Asbestos Used?

The use of asbestos has been traced back at least 4,500 years. But, it wasn’t until the 1900’s that asbestos really became a part of everyday life as a common ingredient in the manufacture of buildings.

asbestosBy the middle of the 20th century, U.S. asbestos consumption had grown to gigantic proportions, from about 20,000 tons in 1900 to 660,000 tons in 1950.

The manufacturing industry has dramatically reduced its use of asbestos in building materials. This reduction is likely due in great part to the large number of asbestos-related illness lawsuits. The greatest likelihood for finding ACM (asbestos containing materials) in residential structures is in homes built or remodeled during the period 1940 to 1980. It was extensively used by manufacturers during that time frame to provide many of the “miracles” already discussed. That’s not to say that asbestos might not have been used right up to the writing of this article, because it is still a legal product.

When Is Asbestos Dangerous?

Inhalation of asbestos is the biggest threat to health. To be inhaled, the asbestos must be in a friable state; friable simply means easily crumbled or turned into powder by hand. However, cutting, sanding, or drilling into the material may also turn it to a friable state.

So, what is the danger to occupants of the home with asbestos containing materials? That all depends on the condition of the ACM. If it is firmly bound into place in the vinyl floor covering or asbestos floor tiles, there is almost no hazard. If, on the other hand, every morning you find “snow” has fallen on the floor from your popcorn ceiling, that needs to be fixed.

Does Your Dream Home Need Asbestos Testing?

Like so many other “modern miracles”, asbestos has turned out to have inherent hazards. Left undisturbed, it will probably cause no harm. If it becomes necessary to disturb suspected asbestos containing materials, be sure to hire an accredited inspector to sample and test for ACM prior to tearing into it.

If you’re concerned about suspected asbestos in your dream home, RAS Environmental Testing Services can help. Call 503-780-0536 today to discuss your questions.