October 19, 2011

Asbestos Ceiling Tiles

Roof Maintenance

Roof maintenance is an important activity. When roof material contains asbestos, the decision on maintenance is to be made based on factors of economics involved in repair or removal, weather conditions, safety and health concerns. The material was used extensively in housing and roofing in particular, prior to 1970s before its carcinogenic effects were known. Therefore, if the house is more than 30-40 years old as on date it is more likely that the roofing would contain asbestos.

Why is Asbestos hazardous?

The material by itself has the greatest advantages of being fire retardant or inextinguishable as it was called in Greek. It could be changed into different forms of sheet, tile or cloth and was considered safe and durable for a very long time. All this changed when it was understood that the fibers of the material when airborne could cause a serious cancer called Mesothelioma or sometimes called Asbestos cancer. The symptoms do not show up for many years and when they do the disease is already in an advanced stage. It was only in the mid 70s the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) put the regulations in place.

How does it affect a house owner?

There is a perpetual question in the mind of the owner regarding repair and maintenance activity and that is to choose between self help (which could be economical and customized) or go in for professional help. In case of asbestos ceiling tiles the owner is not left with much of a choice but to choose professional help in handling a potentially hazardous condition. It needs to be professionally ascertained if the roofing needs to be repaired, removed considering the side effects of the existing and future health concerns of the members of the household.

Who is at risk?

According to EPA, more than 75% of US water systems contain traces of asbestos and also the air in the atmosphere contains detectable levels of the material. Does that mean everybody exposed to that air and water is at risk for Mesothelioma. The answer is no. As stated earlier, if the house is more than 30-40 years old and the roofing visibly contains asbestos and requires maintenance, it could qualify for a health risk. Moreover, people at risk are those who are exposed to large amounts of asbestos fibers for extended periods of time.

Word of Caution

Asbestos has been banned in 40 countries. Check on the local laws to proceed on the maintenance activity accordingly. Professional help may be mandatory.
  1. The growing trend of home renovation market does not necessarily throw light on the safety precautions involved in maintenance of old homes. Use discretion in seeking professional help.
  2. The material is hazardous only when airborne, therefore contaminated ceiling is harmful only when it is damaged. Professional help could always be handy at this stage.
  3. If the tiles are cracked or partially damaged and economics does not permit professional advice, it is highly recommended to adhere to the safety regulations before proceeding on repair.
  4. Disposal of the removed ceiling tiles should be strictly according to the regulations of the state. 
It is of common understanding now that living under a roof made of asbestos does not automatically increase the risk for Mesothelioma. There is no concrete test to prove visually if the ceiling tiles contain the offending material, hence rely on a qualified professional for help and advice. Better be safe.
Source : Asbestos wiki