Asbestos in Your Home. What to Look for, How to Test.

asbestos in your home test and treat

In the past, we’ve written about a variety of Portland home hazards all home owners need to be aware of, from underground oil tanks and radon to mold, floods, earthquakes, and landslides. There’s another one to keep in mind when preparing to invest your hard-earned money into a new home—no matter its age—or preparing your current home to list it on the market. Asbestos!

As real estate agents serving the Portland metro area, we understand the importance of not only helping clients successfully sell their homes for the highest possible price, but to provide both sellers and buyers the latest information about potential hazards Portland homes might have.

Most of us think of asbestos as a material used in construction in the distant past, something that has been largely eradicated. But the truth is, this naturally occurring mineral with beneficial properties—like being resistant to heat, electricity, and corrosion—could still exist in your home.

Read on to learn more about asbestos, where it could be lurking in your home—regardless of its age, and where the U.S. stands on using it in construction in 2022. But first, let’s look at why asbestos is such a hazard to your family’s health and what the laws are around its use.

How Does Asbestos Enter the Body and What are the Effects of Asbestos?

Asbestos can enter the body through the skin, ingestion, or inhalation, the latter of which is the most prevalent exposure and can lead to serious long-term, even fatal, health conditions, like asbestosis, lung cancer, and mesothelioma.

Asbestos can lay dormant for years and be disrupted by standard home maintenance and repairs, remodeling and renovations, or use of any product, appliance, or equipment containing asbestos. These disruptions can release fibers and particles into the air, making anyone near it vulnerable.

What are the Laws Around Asbestos in the U.S.?

The EPA put a partial ban on asbestos back in 1989, which included manufacturing, importing, processing, and distribution of certain products containing asbestos. They also banned the sale of any new uses of asbestos as of August 25 of that year.

New restrictions came in April of 2019 to prevent any previously banned asbestos products from returning to the marketplace without the EPA’s evaluation and implementation of restrictions or prohibitions of the substance.

In December, 2020, the EPA introduced the Final Risk Evaluation for Asbestos, Part 1: Chrysotile Asbestos, stating the finding of “unreasonable risks to human health for all ongoing uses of chrysotile asbestos.”

After public complaints about the limitations of Part 1 (because it only addresses chrysotile asbestos), in April 2022, the EPA introduced Part 2. This amendment intends to extend to all types of asbestos no longer imported to the U.S. but still present from uses in years past, still posing public health threats. Part 2 seeks to prohibit the manufacturing, processing, distribution, and importing of the substance and any other materials or products that contain it. The Risk Evaluation for Asbestos Part 2, will be published before the end of 2024.

Learn more about the EPA’s efforts to protect the public from asbestos exposure.

Push for a Worldwide Ban on Asbestos

In May 2022, Environmental Health Perspectives, a well-respected monthly research journal supported by the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences, published a report on asbestos study carried out in Australia that correlated a variety of diseases with asbestos in 70 countries. The hope is that every country will see the risk asbestos poses and create protocols for controlling its use, and ultimately banning it.

Despite the World Health Organization‘s (WHO) encouragement to ban asbestos altogether, only 60 countries out of almost 200 in the world have done so. The U.S. is one of the very few developed countries that has not implemented a full-on ban. With asbestos-related diseases on the rise, it is even more imperative that the practice of using the substance be curtailed.

Impending Asbestos Ban Fuels Rise in Asbestos Imports

Likely in response to the EPA’s efforts to move toward a ban, stockpiling of asbestos in the U.S. has meant the importation of some 114 metric tons in the first three months of 2022, compared to only 100 metric tons imported in all of 2021, the smallest amount in more than 50 years.

What are the Laws Around Asbestos in Oregon?

The Oregon Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) website states: “There is no known safe level of exposure to asbestos.” With this in mind, the Environmental Quality Commission implemented increased asbestos program fees as of July 1, 2022. These include but are not limited to: increased abatement project notification fees, worker and supervisor certification fees, licensing fees, and training provider accreditation fees.

As of 2018, Oregon adopted asbestos regulations requiring property owners and contractors to not just identify asbestos-containing material and properly handle them, but to also package and dispose of asbestos waste produced from renovation and demolition projects.

Where Could Asbestos be Hiding in Your Portland Home?

Knowing where to look is the first step in understanding the degree of asbestos exposure you and your family could be subject to so you can take the right steps to remove it or create safeguards. Here are some places to keep in mind.

  • Attic and wall insulation that contains vermiculite, a mineral mined in Montana from a site that was contaminated with asbestos. (The EPA warns that if you have this material in your insulation, you should assume it has asbestos and take appropriate steps to remedy the problem.)
  • Hot water and steam pipes coated with any asbestos material, including asbestos blankets and tape
  • Oil and coal furnaces and door gaskets insulated with asbestos
  • Walls and floors around wood-burning stoves protected with cement sheets, millboard, or asbestos paper
  • Vinyl floor tiles and vinyl sheet flooring backing and adhesives
  • Shingles for roofing and siding
  • Walls and ceilings with textured paint and patching compounds
  • Heat-resistant fabrics

See a more extensive list of possible places asbestos might be in your home.

When to Test for Asbestos in Your Portland Home

Simply put, if you plan to renovate your home and you aren’t able to easily identify asbestos-containing material at a glance, hire an accredited inspector to do an asbestos survey of your home. Until you know for sure, treat any questionable materials as if they contain asbestos. A licensed DEQ asbestos abatement contractor can help with an asbestos survey. Following surveys for renovations, owners of the property may remove the material themselves.

Likewise, for any demolition of a residence built before 2004, home owners must hire an accredited inspector to carry out an asbestos survey, who will, in turn, produce a survey report. In this case, if friable (crumbling) asbestos is found, it must be removed by a DEQ asbestos abatement contractor before the demolition can occur. If non-friable asbestos is found, a Construction Contractors Board licensed contractor must handle of the removal.

How to Test Asbestos Found in Your Portland Home

If an accredited asbestos contractor discovers asbestos-containing materials in your home, they can send them to a lab for evaluation. If you locate asbestos when preparing for a remodel, you can take the sample(s) to a lab yourself, using the following steps, per the DEQ.

  1. Wet the material with a light water mist before disrupting the area and taking the sample. This reduces the potential release of asbestos fibers into the air.
  2. Don’t disrupt the material more than necessary: a small (2” x 2”) sample is sufficient.
  3. Place the sample in a clean, air-tight container. A small jar or zip-lock bag will work. Seal the container tightly to prevent asbestos particles from escaping. Make sure each sample has its own container.
  4. Clean up any material on the outside of the container or that might have fallen to the floor or other surfaces with a damp paper towel.
  5. Place a clearly marked label on the container that shows the location and date of the sample taken.
  6. Send your sample(s) to an accredited asbestos lab for analyses.

Is Your Portland Home Ready for Market?

We’ve seen a lot in our 19 years of helping clients sell homes in the Portland metro area. We’d be happy to talk with you about what it will take to make your home list-ready for the market. Call our top 1% seller’s agents today at 503-714-1111, or chat with the bot on our site. We’re happy to hear about your plans and concerns and help you troubleshoot any potential problems you might encounter.

August 29, 2022

Stephen FitzMaurice

Stephen FitzMaurice, Realtor is a top 5% real estate agent in the U.S. A Principal Broker in Oregon, Managing Broker in Washington, he has been licensed since 2003 for residential real estate sales. Call his team in Oregon at 503-714-1111 or in Washington at 360-345-3833.

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