Asbestos: Is It Safer To Remove It Or Leave It Where It Is?

Posted on: 26 November 2014

Before 1989, asbestos, a silicate mineral, was a common choice for building materials. It was banned after discovering that asbestos fibres have toxic and carcinogenic properties, but many old houses still have asbestos-based building materials. Asbestos can induce respiratory problems, lung issues, asbestosis and even mesothelioma cancer. Since asbestos is a health threat, it's normal for people to want to eliminate every bit of it from their houses. However, it might be safer to leave them there in some cases.

Does your house have asbestos-based building materials in it?

Today there are several products that still contain asbestos. In many parts of the world, asbestos was phased out of building products from the '70s till the '80s. However, older houses or homes that had been renovated before the ban may still have asbestos-based building materials in them, such as:

  • stipple used for texture walls and ceilings
  • drywall joint fillers
  • asbestos-contaminated vermiculite (which is another mineral used in construction)
  • vinyl floor tile and sheet flooring
  • window putty
  • mastic
  • cement boards, pipes and flues
  • furnace tapes
  • stucco
  • roofing materials
  • fireproofing and acoustic materials

Asbestos testing

You can hire an expert to get samples from your home and test them from asbestos. During this procedure you should put your pets away and take your family out. Getting asbestos samples is as dangerous as removing it because it releases toxic fibres in the air. You should never take samples yourself. 

Removing asbestos might stir up carcinogenic material that would have never been a danger otherwise, so you should always look at the benefits of an asbestos removal operation before ordering it. Testing and removals should always be done by an expert -- never do them yourself!

Should you remove the asbestos-based materials in your home or not?

  • Are the materials deteriorated or are likely to be disturbed through future remodelling? You should probably have them removed, because any sort of disturbance to the materials will release toxic asbestos fibres into the air in your home. This is because damaged or manipulated materials have more chances to release particles in their surrounding environment.
  • Is the product in good shape or out of the way (e.g. pipe insulation)? You can leave it safely. If you don't interact with it or damage it then there is no chance of coming in contact with asbestos fibres.
  • Is it in a high traffic area? If you and your family have high chances of coming in contact with the asbestos product or damaging it, then you should take all measures necessary to remove it.

What should you do with the asbestos you choose not to remove?

You should still take some precautions even if the asbestos-based materials you have in your home are not dangerous. Certified contractors can either seal off the asbestos with a special coating, or cover it in such a way that it doesn't come in contact with the room any more.

Whatever your choice regarding the asbestos in your home, never act on it on your own. Asbestos is highly toxic and should always be left in the hands of a professional who has the equipment and expertise to deal with it.