What is Involved in Removing Asbestos?

Emma Lloyd

Removing asbestos can be a lengthy and dangerous job. Asbestos exposure is known to cause debilitating and deadly diseases such as asbestosis and mesothelioma, and even a small amount of exposure can be toxic. To safely remove asbestos requires proper safety equipment and knowledge of how to do the job properly. In some cases it may even be safer to hire a licensed asbestos removal expert.

Exposure to asbestos may cause shortness of breath.
Exposure to asbestos may cause shortness of breath.

In the United States and other countries, asbestos is ubiquitous in homes and public buildings that were constructed prior to the 1980s. In some countries, asbestos is still being used in manufacturing. When asbestos is present in construction materials, there is a risk that as these materials degrade over time, asbestos fibers may be released into the air. Breathing in asbestos fibers is a health risk, so for many homeowners, removing asbestos is an important concern.

Inhaling asbestos dust can cause respiratory illness.
Inhaling asbestos dust can cause respiratory illness.

There are several ways to deal with asbestos. When removing asbestos, therefore, the first choice that needs to be made is the method of removal. This will depend on the type of asbestos-containing material involved, the condition of the materials, and how much needs to be removed. At this point it is prudent to work with a licensed asbestos contractor to determine the best removal method, even if a homeowner plans to do the work without professional help.

Wearing a respirator mask is crucial for workers involved in asbestos removal to prevent inhalation.
Wearing a respirator mask is crucial for workers involved in asbestos removal to prevent inhalation.

While it may seem counter-intuitive, outright removal of asbestos is actually the most dangerous way of dealing with the substance. This is because removing asbestos altogether presents the highest risk of releasing fibers into the air. For this reason, complete removal is usually a last resort, and other methods of dealing with asbestos are used whenever possible.

Someone dealing with the presence of asbestos may require the use of an inhaler to breathe.
Someone dealing with the presence of asbestos may require the use of an inhaler to breathe.

In some cases, it may be possible to repair damaged asbestos-containing materials. This method can, however, be almost as hazardous as removal. Another issue is that if the damage is severe, attempting repairs may only delay solving the problem, as at some point complete removal is likely to be necessary. In these cases, removing asbestos altogether may actually be better than trying to repair it.

Lung cancer is commonly related to asbestos exposure.
Lung cancer is commonly related to asbestos exposure.

If asbestos materials do not need to be removed, there are two options to deal with them safely: encapsulation and enclosure. To encapsulate asbestos means to coat it in an acrylic-containing sealant that traps asbestos fibers and prevents them becoming airborne. This is an effective method of dealing with asbestos if there is only a small amount of material to be dealt with. Encapsulating asbestos before removal can also help reduce the risks associated with removal.

To safely remove asbestos ceiling tiles requires proper safety equipment and knowledge of how to do the job properly.
To safely remove asbestos ceiling tiles requires proper safety equipment and knowledge of how to do the job properly.

The final option for dealing with asbestos is called enclosure. This involves wrapping or otherwise covering the materials so that airborne fibers are trapped inside the enclosure. Enclosure can be an effective method to use if the asbestos is located in an area of the house which is not in heavy use, such as an attic. If this method is used it is important to ensure that the enclosure, as well as the asbestos materials themselves, are never disturbed with drilling or other types of damage.

Whatever the method used, removing asbestos requires that some safety precautions be taken to prevent exposure. A respirator with a HEPA filter, as well as protective clothing, should be worn if there is a high risk of airborne asbestos fibers. If a large outdoor removal project is involved, warning signs may need to be posted around the perimeter of the building. In all cases, local authorities should be consulted before beginning an asbestos removal project, to ensure that all relevant laws are complied with.

Ceiling tiles installed before 1981 may contain asbestos.
Ceiling tiles installed before 1981 may contain asbestos.

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